No contract for website

Hi Alasdair, 

I am hoping that you can assist me with a quick query regarding a dispute that I have. 

In 2011, I provided my ‘friends’ with a website and intranet site for their business, free of charge, with no written or verbal contract. It was provided to them on an as-is basis. 

5 months ago, the websites were hacked and they asked me to fix it. I said no, and at this stage they threatened to involve solicitors and contact my employer (a bank). Indeed, I did receive a solicitors letter requesting I re-instate the website. I have since refused to assist as I believe I have no legal obligation to assist them. They have now contacted my employer.

Please could you provide me with a general rule of thumb with regards to websites provided with no written or verbal contract as a ‘gift’?  This is a hobby of mine, I am not a web developer and this was given to them on the understanding that if things went wrong they wouldn’t pursue me.

Hoping you can assist,

Kind Regards
Rob Allen

Where services are provided free of charge to friends without the backing of any legal document, then there will not usually be a contract - i.e. a legally enforceable agreement.

A key question in this case is whether there was any other form of "consideration", some benefit that your friends granted to you in exchange for your work on the website. If there was no consideration, there can be no contract; and if there is no contract, there can be no contractual obligation upon you to  fix or re-instate the website.

Even if there was some other consideration, a contract also requires an intention to create legal relations, which might not have been present here.

I'd be interested to see hear legal basis upon which you friends' solicitor based the demand.

What about non-contractual obligations?

It might be possible to construct an argument based on the tort of negligence, as follows: (i) in offering to create and creating the website, you assumed a duty of care to your friends to ensure it was reasonably secure; (ii) you negligently failed to do so; and (iii) as a consequence, your friends suffered reasonably forseeable losses.

However, even if you were negligent - and nothing in your post suggests you were - I would be extremely surprised if such an argument succeeded before a judge. There are various principles concerning the identification of a duty of care, disclaimers of liability, causation and damages that could hamstring the argument and, if the full facts are anything like your summary, your friends would be unlikely to receive a sympathetic hearing.

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