Contract Law at the Speed of Light

One of the reasons that I think I’ve done as well as I have in law school is because of my fascination with outlandish hypotheticals. In particular, I love the mental exercise of trying to come up with a fact-pattern to thwart any given rule of law. While these scenarios are often absurd and totally unlikely to come up in the practice of law – or “real life,” for that matter – fucking around with them seems to help me explore the contours of the law, finding the nuances and loopholes, the joints and bendy parts.

Sometimes, however, these just get totally ridiculous. For example, during my first-year contracts classes, I pondered how Einstein’s theory of relativity would affect the statute of frauds. Granted, I am by no means an expert in theoretical physics – hell, I can barely do long division – but I have a layman’s interest in this stuff. Basically, time is reference-frame dependent; as you approach the speed of light, time itself slows down. Since the statute of frauds requires you to have a written contract where performance takes a year or more, this got me wondering: whose reference frame governs a contract?

Let’s say that A hires B to work for him, but doesn’t reduce the agreement to writing. B takes his family on a month-long vacation to a planet a third of a light-year away, traveling at 0.9 times the speed of light. While he’s away, A decides to fire B – can B successfully sue A for lost wages, or will A be able to use the statute of frauds to bar B?

The question depends on whether the courts measure the time for performance using A’s reference frame, or B’s. At that speed, only nine months has passed for B. However, over a year and eight months has passed back on earth, where A’s been twiddling his thumbs. So who wins?

Surprisingly, despite my significant research into the subject-area (read: fucking around on Westlaw), there’s no answer. No court (for obvious reasons) has yet addressed anything even remotely resembling the burning issue of relativistic-speed travel. Also, calculating the time for performance using the Lorenz Transformations would be really fucking complicated.

Fuck it.