Signing a contract under protest occurs when a person is being forced to sign a contract. This is usually because they are being threatened or influenced to sign the contract under pressure.

Information About Duress

When duress is determined, it is not based on the nature of the pressure but by the state of mind induced in the victim. Examples of duress include:

  • Threats to personal liberty
  • Threats of violence
  • Extreme economic pressure

When someone feels they have signed a contract under duress and takes action in court, they will argue that the contract should be deemed invalid because the contract was not signed and entered into voluntarily.

A duress defense may be raised when violence or force is used to compel another party into entering into a contract.

Duress can be applied when the contract was initially made or when it was modified. The person claiming duress can request the contract be made invalid only if the other party was the immediate cause of harm. An example would be a person signed because they were forced or coerced through threats.

Economic duress is commonly found in commercial contract disputes. It occurs when one party pressures another party unfairly using economic pressure to force them to sign a contract.

When taken to court, the claim of economic duress is looked at closely to determine if the pressure was unfair. Not all threats constitute economic duress, especially if the threat was a typical event occurring in a business dealing or was a simple legal action.

Threatening to cancel a contract or making a promise to bring a lawsuit to force someone into a performance is not considered duress.

The threat of duress must come from the other party. It cannot be instigated by a third party or an outside force. War, for example, is not a valid form of economic duress even if one party was in physical danger.

When a person is forced to enter into a contract due to being threatened with physical bodily harm to them or their family, it is physical duress. If the person agrees to the terms only because they were forced, then the contract would not be binding.

A Signature Without Assuming Liability

With any contract, there is always a point where a signature is required. In some instances, people have used the initials "V.C." as a way of noting they are signing the document under duress.

The initials are Latin and stand for vi coactus, which means "constrained by force." Using this method when signing your name to any document where you are being forced would indicate your signature was added under duress.

If using this as a way to note duress, the initials are placed before your name. Example, V.C. John Smith.

Consideration

Consideration is the nuts and bolts of a contract. To be considered a contract, there must be consideration. A fast way to determine duress is checking if proper consideration was given.

When applying duress, one party benefits while the other party receives only what was originally promised. When both parties benefit, consideration exists, which means duress is most likely not a factor.

To be clear, a promise to do what the promisor was already legally bound to do is not deemed consideration.

Proving Duress

To prove duress in regard to contracts, one party must show that there is a continuous contract between the defendant and the plaintiff. The plaintiff must also prove that the defendant threatened to terminate the preexisting contract and that the plaintiff accepted the terms of the contract and entered into it solely under duress.

Courts consider several factors when determining if pressure is being exerted by one party on another. These include:

  • The timeframe for contract performance to be completed by each party.
  • The bargaining power each party had when the agreement was made.
  • The mental state of each party at the time of the agreement.
  • Whether each party believed that the agreement was fair when created.
  • If there were reasonable alternatives made when the agreement was created for contract modifications.
  • Whether legal remedies were a reasonable solution to contract problems.

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