20. March 2014
An eBay buyer has been granted a partial refund by a court in Germany accidentally transferring €1,000 for a pair of used trousers. The price she had meant to pay was €9.50.
A woman who mistakenly transferred €1,000 euros to a student in payment for a pair of used children’s trousers brought a court claim for a refund (case ref.: 31 C 422/13). The price the eBay buyer had meant to pay was just €9.50.
The woman opted to pay by bank transfer and when filling out the relevant transfer slip had decided to play it safe and enter the amount of €10.00. However, the comma separating the numbers slipped below the payment field, meaning that it was not captured by the automatic reader when transferring the amount. Consequently, the bank transferred €1,000 to the seller.
Buyer confirmed amount
The seller noticed the mistake immediately and informed the buyer with the following message:
“Hello, I have received your payment, but I think you have made a mistake. You have transferred, believe it or not, 1,000 euros instead of 9.50. If this isn’t meant to be a tip, please send me your bank details so that I can transfer the excess amount back to you…cheers.”
The buyer read the message too quickly and thought that it concerned an originally agreed price increase of 50 cents. She therefore confirmed that the amount was correct.
The student couldn’t believe her luck and thanked the buyer. In a follow-up message she asked the buyer to give an explanation for the unusual generosity:
“Hello again. I am speechless in view of such generosity. I mean, I am not complaining, I am a poor student and could really use the money. But could I ask you what the reason is for your generosity? Regards.“
The buyer was taken aback by this reply and examined the transfer. Once she noticed the mistake, she requested a refund from the student of the 990 euros incorrectly paid.
The problem was that, in the meantime, the student had already spent some of the money on clothes, cosmetics and other products.
The question arose as to how much the student should have to repay from the amount transferred.
German law on unjustified enrichment
In principle, under German law, someone who receives a benefit without legal reason (such as a contract) must surrender it.
In this case, the contract underpinning the transaction required the buyer to pay €9.50. This meant she in fact had a right to a refund of the difference.
However, a person who wrongfully receives a benefit is not required to surrender it, if they are no longer in possession of it and had acted in good faith.
This means that the student is not required to refund the amount she had already spent on clothes and cosmetics, as she had spent the money in good faith, believing it had been given to her by the buyer out of generosity.
Student obliged to refund half the amount
In the end, the student was required to refund the amount she had not spent, which was €500. The buyer, on the other hand, had accept that she had paid €500 for a pair of used children’s trousers on eBay.
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