Similar to duress, a court will find undue influence was exercised when someone who shares a special trust with the victim, uses that trust to persuade them into signing (or not to sign) a contract. It is essentially an abuse of the victim’s confidence and trust. Courts will protect a person who is found to have been unduly influenced.
Some special relationships creating trust and confidence include but are not limited to:
A party to a contract can escape contractual obligations if it can show that it agreed to enter into a contract because of another’s undue influence. A contract is “voidable” when a victim enters into it under the undue influence of another. This means that the victim has the option of canceling that contract .
Undue influence requires coercive persuasion beyond giving friendly advice and flattery. For example, when someone gives in to another’s continual requests and pleas just so she can be left alone, a court may find undue influence. Furthermore, threats never to see a person again and defamation may also be grounds for undue influence.
How Do I Prove Undue Influence?
Undue influence is based upon four elements. First, the victim must prove that he or she faced the probability of undue influence. Physical or mental illness is common in undue influence cases. Injuries from an accident, the recent death of a loved one and other traumatic events may create situations where the victim will be vulnerable to undue influence.
Second, the victim must show that the defendant had the opportunity to dominate the victim. As mentioned previously, special relationships often hold the potential for such opportunities. The victim believes that the defendant had victim’s best interests in mind when the defendant was actually taking advantage of the victim’s trust and circumstances.
Third, it must be shown that the defendant took the opportunity to influence the victim. Attempts to isolate the victim or to constantly pressure the victim into a decision are common signs that the defendant is using the victim for the defendant’s own ends.
Finally, there must be a record of an unusual or suspicious transaction. This is usually the result or product of the defendant’s undue influence over the victim. The defendant abuses the relationship with the victim to coerce the victim into doing something beneficial for the defendant. Pressuring the victim to sell the victim’s home to the defendant at an extremely low cost is an example of such a transaction
Are There Any Defenses to an Undue Influence Charge?
The first and most prominent defense to undue influence is if the victim received independent counsel from someone other than the person accused of the coercive behavior. A third party can help the victim verify or disclaim information that the defendant is giving. If the victim is fully aware of the nature of the relationship and transaction, then there can be no claim to undue influence.
Second, if the court can determine that the “suspicious” transaction was, in fact, a fair one for both the victim and the defendant, then the defendant cannot be guilty of undue influence. Even if the relationship between the victim and defendant is an isolated one, the defendant is not taking advantage of the situation to benefit him or herself.
Should I Contact a Contracts Lawyer for an Undue Influence Issue?
A business lawyer will better be able to identify if you are a victim of undue influence and navigate you through the complex legal process. A qualified attorney could recommend an appropriate course or action to protect your legal interests.