Law student seeks to collect on 'Dateline' $1 million challenge
9:32 AM PDT 6/19/2009 by Eriq Gardner
Any lawyer in his right mind should know better than to go on TV and give the audience a $1 million challenge. One such attorney is learning the hard way that anybody could construe such a challenge to be an actual offer, giving rise to an implied oral contract.
James Mason is an Orlando-based attorney representing a businessman, Nelson Serrano, accused of killing his financial partner and two others in 1997.
In 2006, NBC's "Dateline" featured the crimes, and Mason appeared as a guest to defend his client. During the course of the interview, Mason said it was impossible for Serrano to have committed the murders, since it would have required his client to fly from Orlando to Atlanta, exit one of the busiest airports in the world, and arrive at a hotel five miles away in less than a half hour.
"I challenge anybody to show me, I'll pay them a million dollars if they can do it," said Mason on the show.
The NBC reporter followed up to see if Mason understood the terms of the challenge. Mason responded: "If they can do it in the time allotted? 28 minutes. Can't happen. Didn't happen."
Dustin Kolodziej, an enterprising law student at South Texas College of Law, decided to take up Mason's challenge. In December, 2007, Kolodziej retraced Serrano's alleged route and made a video recording of the travel. He made the Orlando-to-Atlanta-hotel trip in under 28 minutes.
Kolodziej attempted to collect from Mason, who refused, saying his comment on "Dateline" was a joke, and that nobody could interpret his statement as meaning he had any reasonable intention to pay up. Kolodziej pursued Mason further, and Mason wrote back that he'd consider any further communication "extortion and/or mail fraud."
So there you have it. Was Mason's "Dateline" exclamation a rhetorical flurry or an actual offer that created an implied oral contract when Kolodziej accepted?
A Texas district court will decide the answer. Here's Kolodziej's lawsuit against Mason for breach of contract.
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