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I've been working for a client for over a year and a half at an hourly rate. He's been pretty happy with the work thus far, and he has paid all invoices without objection, but his business has started to decline recently, causing him a lot of stress, expense resentment, and strained relations between us. I quit the project a few days ago (for a host of reasons) and he was not happy about it. He basically said that I need to continue working or he would sue me for some amount of money he has paid me as he doesn't feel the work is "what he paid for" (that is completely not the case, but irrelevant here).

We do not have a signed agreement. The only "agreement" we have is a verbal / email one, stating that I will provide services to him at the rate of X an hour. I have copies of all the invoices I've sent him that have been paid, and they are broken down by hourly charges. His business also sends me a 1099 every year. Also, I did not leave anything "broken" or even in an un-finished state (for what it's worth).

I don't think he has a leg to stand on, but I've never been sued before, and so I'm really worried. I know now that I should have insisted on getting something in writing before starting. Does anyone have any advice? Does he have a legitimate case?

DISCLAIMER: I realize that any legal advise given is pretty much worthless here and I should consult a lawyer :).

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I realize that any legal advise given is pretty much worthless... Then why are you asking? –  Caleb Jan 31 '12 at 18:06
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One can sue anybody for any reason. The real question is does he have a case against you... –  maple_shaft Jan 31 '12 at 18:16
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@Caleb Humor me :) –  landonz Jan 31 '12 at 18:17
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If there was no contract for you to breach (by quitting the project), then it will be very difficult for him to make the case that you did breach - he could sue but would have a very hard time winning. Since the agreement was a verbal agreement, it might be harder for both sides. I'm not a lawyer so you should consult one. And in the future, you could get these agreements in writing. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jan 31 '12 at 18:28
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If this were a serious problem, someone would be selling malpractice insurance to programmers. –  JeffO Jan 31 '12 at 18:29
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closed as off topic by Matthieu, FrustratedWithFormsDesigner, JeffO, Thomas Owens, Caleb Jan 31 '12 at 18:34

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2 Answers

A client can sue you because they burned their toast that morning.

The interesting question isn't even "can the client win the case", which is helpful to know, but doesn't really matter.

What you care about is: can you afford the lawyers to fight about this, if they bring a case?

...because, ultimately, even a frivolous lawsuit can cost a lot of money, stress, and time before it is resolved.

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Yes, all good points. I can afford the lawyers, but I can't afford to lose. I guess a better question would be do they have a case at all? –  landonz Jan 31 '12 at 18:03
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Ultimately, you probably have to convince a judge that it is more likely that you are telling the truth, or in the right, than the other party is: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_burden_of_proof#Civil_law - a lighter burden for the accuser than criminal "beyond a reasonably doubt". –  Daniel Pittman Jan 31 '12 at 18:11
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"I guess a better question would be do they have a case at all?" That is something to ask a lawyer. I'd suggest booking a consultation. –  Tyanna Jan 31 '12 at 18:27
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The only real question would be did you break your contract? Did you, in e-mail, say you would work X number of days / for a duration?

if not, then he's just P'd off at life right now..

If i were you, tell him you'll only continue working at double your current rate, and say he's got to pay weekly, or you dont start the next week. Hopefully he can find a replacement to keep his business going while you do him a favor and dont leave him high and dry..

EDIT: The intent of offering a much higher rate to continue working will not only make it worth your while, it will most likely make your boss choose to no longer use your services, which should defuse his threat to sue..

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Thanks! That's kind of what I was thinking and hoping for. No, we did not have an agreement on any specs, functionality, timeline, etc. I would have gladly kept working a few more weeks, helped with the transition, but now that he has threatened a lawsuit, I don't want to touch anything for fear of being sued. –  landonz Jan 31 '12 at 18:09
    
Yikes, why would you engage in business with someone that's threaten you regardless of how much they'd offered to pay you. –  blunders Jan 31 '12 at 18:19
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-1 Once there's a legal threat, he doesn't deserve "a favor" and should be left high and dry. –  Adam Jaskiewicz Jan 31 '12 at 19:01
    
I've updated my answer to address the concerns.. People get mad and say things.. he's probably not going to sue for lots of reasons, and if the job was left immediately, that's going to ruffle some feathers.. my intention is to make an offer the boss will most likely refuse, but if the offer is accepted, it will make it worth the developers time and give the boss incentive and time to find resources. –  hanzolo Jan 31 '12 at 19:41
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Why working for people that "get mad and say things" when any good programmer can get a job that pays well and where he gets some RESPECT? Getting mad and saying things is completely different from making threats. Now when the person knows you're leaving he'll probably think that you should work for free during transition time and you won't get paid. He actually stated before that you "don't deserve the money". –  Slawek Jan 31 '12 at 22:17
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