Court Enforces Contract Executed Via Whatsapp Messages

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In yet another landmark decision, the High Court in Kampala has enforced a contract executed via WhatsApp indicating messages received via the same platform form a contract under the law.

According to the Commercial Division Judge Patricia Kahigi Asiimwe, WhatsApp messages are data messages generated and when sent, received or stored by computer means and include voices used in an automated transaction, stored record, they mean electronic representations of information in any form.

Therefore the Judge has ruled that those messages form a contract under section 3 of the Contracts Act and also a cell phone is a computer.

The decision arises from a successful suit filed by Dr. Rodney Mugarura against Paramount Hospital Kampala Limited and it’s Director Dr. Simon Begumisa.

Dr. Mugarura sued the Hospital and its Director accusing them of having failed to pay his professional fees amounting to sh41.5m after he was hired via WhatsApp messages to come and do complicated surgeries.

In his testimony, Dr. Mugarura told the Court that in September 2019, Dr. Begumisa approached him and introduced himself as the Director of Hospital through a WhatsApp message. That Begumisa informed Mugarura that the hospital runs many departments including orthopedic surgery and that the hospital works with many surgeons who are given operating rights and the rights to charge their professional fees.

According to the Court records, Mugarura was further informed by Begumisa that they desired to work with him under a similar arrangement. Records show that the two medical experts met and agreed that Mugarura would be called in whenever his services were required.

The records further show  that under the arrangement, it was agreed that Mugarura’s invoices for his professional fees, surgical implants used in the surgeries, or other services would be provided in the process of attending to the patients.

He made several demands for payment however the respondents did not pay the money.  During the hearing, the matter proceeded ex parte since the respondents were served and failed to make an appearance.

Among the issues for determination, Court was expected to decide whether Mugarura and the respondents had a valid and legally binding agreement executed via WhatsApp. Mugarura brought witnesses to court including the surgical nurse he used to work with in the theatre and evidence from other fellow doctors whom he had assigned to review for him the patients he would operate and report back to him.

After looking at the messages shared on WhatsApp, the Judge has ruled that the said messages indicate that there was an offer made, which was accepted, and that the services were provided, meaning that there was a contract.

She added that under section 10 (3) of the Contracts Act, a contract is in writing where it is namely; in the form of a data message; accessible in a manner usable for subsequent reference; and otherwise in words.

The Judge has gone ahead to explain that under Section 2 of the Electronic Transactions Act a “data message” means data generated, sent, received, or stored by computer means and includes;  voice, where the voice is used in an automated transaction;  a stored record. Under the same provision, court has ruled that “data” means electronic representations of information in any form.

“Under the above definition of data message, the message has to be stored by a computer. In this case, the data message was stored on a mobile phone. The question then is whether a cell/mobile phone is a computer.

Lady Justice Asiimwe has further explained in details that a cellphone is a computer as per the Information Technology Act. As such, she has ruled that WhatsApp messages are data messages.

According to the Judge, the Hospital Director asked Mugarura for his account details and for the amount of money they owed him. And the two parties entered into negotiations which she said clearly indicates that services were provided and the respondents owed him money.

“The Plaintiff also submitted invoices addressed to the two patients wherein both patients were billed for spinal surgery,” adds the Judge after fining the respondents in breach of contract.

As a consequence, the Judge has ordered the Hospital to pay Dr. Mugarura 41.5 million shillings with an interest of 20 percent from the year he filed his case in 2021 up to when the hospital pays him in full.

Story by URN


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