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Leap Day!

Gilbert & Sullivan fans know that contracts can be hard to interpret if February 29 comes into play. The entire plot of the operetta The Pirates of Penzance is prompted by poor Frederick, born on leap day (like Ja Rule), and apprenticed to the pirates of the Tarantula “until his 21st birthday.” Of course, in Frederick’s 21st year his birthday does not actually occur, so the pirates – in order to keep him aboard – argue that his 21st birthday won’t occur until he is 84 years old!

Keen legal minds will probably spot some issues with that as a legal premise, but leap day does play a role in some legal disputes. Did you know that the “Twenty Ninth of February” has its own entry in Corpus Juris Secundum (86 C.J.S. Time §11)? This section explains how to calculate periods of time that include leap days. These extra days are actually counted together with the prior day, in cases where you’re counting multiple years. But if you’re counting mere days, the days are indeed counted separately.

Why on earth does this matter? Most of the cases that discuss leap days are calculating either a period of time allowed for filing a claim or response of some kind (measured in days or months) or prison sentences (usually measured in years). Like many things (including time to final exams) – it matters a great deal in the short term, but less and less in the long term!

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