Undue Influence Contract Law

Duress and Undue Influence in Contract Law

You can ask our solicitors for advice on undue influence contract using the question box on the front of our website or the following free legal advice guide may answer your questions. Duress and undue influence in contract law is a serious issue and it is used to describe a situation when someone has been forced into a contract. If this does happen then a contract cannot be valid. When applying common law, there are two main elements to take into consideration. The first is duress and the second is undue influence. undue influence

Duress Undue Influence

contract would be formed under duress if there was either an unlawful restriction or a threat of violence. There have been many instances in case law where duress has been applied such as when a contract is made using threat of violence or unlawful constraint. It can be argued that the majority of contracts we enter into are made under some form of pressure because every contract contains a ‘threat’ from the offeror that unless the terms are accepted, the person entering into the contract will not receive the agreed benefits. This means that there has to be a way to clearly distinguish illegitimate pressures from the normal ‘pressures’ associated with contracts that cannot be used as reasons to void a contract. It is very clear that excessive pressure to enter a contract is not prohibited. One of the main forms of pressure that an individual may face is on a personal level. Excessive pressure or threats may be placed on the individual’s freedom, health, or physical comfort to persuade them to enter into a contract. This doesn’t necessarily have to be directed primarily at the person who enters the contract, it can be aimed at a family member, relative or close friend. Other forms of duress include:
  • Threats of violence
  • Fear of goods or property being damaged
  • Economic duress which relates to harming someone’s rights that someone has under a contract
One of the main issues when proving duress is whether the type of duress was in actual fact illegitimate. It can prove difficult to distinguish between what is an acceptable level of pressure and what is deemed to be unacceptable or excessive. Each case will be assessed on its own merits, looking at the particular circumstances under which the contract was entered into and the level of pressure used.

Undue Influence Contract Law

When undue influence comes into question in contract law it relates to the application of inappropriate pressure on one party to enter into a contract. This pressure is usually applied by someone who is either in a more powerful position or who is trusted and is exerted upon someone in a less powerful position. This pressure will effectively coerce the individual into entering a contract against their will. When it comes to supporting an undue influence claim, you must provide evidence. One of the ways that you could provide evidence is to establish that the victim is someone who was at a disadvantage and the offending party used their influence to their advantage or special relationship to encourage the individual to enter into the contract. There are several ways in which undue influence can take place including;
  • constantly bothering someone to enter into a contract (importuning)
  • placing an incredible emphasis
  • urging someone to do something (exhortation)
  • the use of excessive or insincere complements to gain some advantage (flattery)
  •  misleading someone (deception)
  • making subtle suggestions to gain an advantage over someone (insinuation) or trickery

Relationship Undue Influence

Undue influence usually occurs when there is a special relationship between the parties, either a blood relation such as a husband and wife, parent and child or it can happen in a professional capacity such as between a doctor and their patient or a solicitor and their client. When a case proceeds to court they will determine whether undue influence has taken place by identifying whether there has been an aggressive manner in which the contract was created, if supervision from an external source is prevented, or discouraging or deterring an individual from seeking advice from a third party. The court cannot simply reach a conclusion that undue influence has occurred without carefully examining the factual information surrounding case. Simply suspecting that undue influence has taken place is not enough. Furthermore, the court will always be mindful that sometimes undue influence can be used for malicious purposes whereby a claimant could deem a normal, everyday contract invalid for purely selfish purposes.

Free Will

One of the key determining factors in identifying undue influence was whether free will was duly exercised when the contract was signed. Defendants who are accused of undue influence are able to prove their innocence during proceedings. One of the most important things that they must establish is to prove that they didn’t apply any undue influence and the claimant did, in actual fact seek advice from a third party before they entered into the contract. If you can get the person who provided them with advice to act as a witness, they can confirm that undue influence didn’t take place. If you enter into a contract willingly you cannot claim undue influence under any circumstances. Undue influence and duress are two important elements of contract law. You should never feel pressured into entering into a contract. You should be able to take time to think about the contract you are signing, and you should always be able to seek advice from a third party at all times, whether this is a solicitor or other professional.

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