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Undue Influence

DEFINITION

Undue influence is a legal doctrine that describes situations where an individual uses their position of power against another person to persuade them to make a terrible legally binding decision. This doctrine is typically invoked by parties to a contract or agreement who were coerced by a more powerful party to agree to terms that are not in their best interests.

EXPLANATION

Undue influence usually happens when an individual uses their advantage over another person to coerce them to make a decision that is not in their best interest, but largely favors the coercing party. This doctrine initially originated from the limitations in how the laws relating to duress were applied as the parties claiming to have acted under duress had to provide evidence that the other party had threatened them with violence.

The doctrine of undue influence is an improvement to the laws regarding duress as it does not require the affected parties to provide any evidence of threats of physical harm. Under this doctrine, it is enough for the aggrieved party to prove that the other party had an advantageous position over them and used this position to persuade them to make a decision that was harmful to them.

Conditions That Create Actual Undue Influence

Parties to a contract, agreement, or transaction may challenge the validity of the agreement in court if they believe that their consent was not genuine since the other party subjected them to undue pressure. Under the law, undue influence exists where excessive pressure is put on a party to enter into an agreement that is not in their best long-term interests.

A party in a contract that is harmful to their interests cannot claim undue interest as a way of invalidating the contract unless the other party had an advantageous position against them and coerced them into signing the contract. However, if the affected party was not coerced or extremely pressured to enter into the agreement, then they cannot claim undue influence as a way of vitiating the contract.

In cases where a powerful party is accused of unduly influencing the other party to consent to a contract, the accused party has to prove that they did not use their position of power to unfairly profit at the expense of the other party.

Relationships with Presumed Undue Influence

Normally, elderly people or minors who have guardians in charge of handling their finances and legal obligations can easily claim undue influence. Other relationships that could easily lead to undue influence scenarios are relationships between doctors and their patients, those between attorneys and their clients, and that between trustees and beneficiaries.

In such relationships, the aggrieved party only has to prove that they had confidence that their relationship with the other party was built on trust. The jury in such cases can easily assume that the powerful party in this relationship abused the aggrieved party’s trust in them and persuaded them to enter into a contract that only benefits the powerful party, and is harmful to them. In some cases, even husbands can have presumed undue influence on their wives.