Difference Between Duress vs Undue Influence

Difference Between Duress vs Undue Influence

At times, people are threatened to sign agreements without their consent. On other occasions, people are coerced to get to into forced arrangements. Law is complicated and while to lay persons these two situations may look very similar, they describe two very different situations – duress and undue influence. How is undue influence different from duress?

In case you’re wondering, what is the difference between duress and undue influence, we will answer that question in this article. The difference between duress and undue influence describes a situation where one party is forced through coercion of violence, while another is forced through the unethical actions of another party into a contract or agreement.

Looking closely at the two scenarios, we get a clearer picture of what they may involve and highlight the difference between undue influence and duress.  

Definition of Duress

A person or parties normally enter into any arrangement willingly. However, if they do so without their wish, and with no other reasonable alternatives available to them, they are said to have acted under duress. Duress is a dangerous situation to be in and likely scenarios of the definition of duress include:

Threats of Violence: At times, the coercion becomes so strong and threatens the physical safety of a person, they have no choice but to give in. If the magnitude of the threat was severe, the arrangement could be dismissed without the option of appeal. This includes contracts enforced at gunpoint, threats of rape or physical bodily harm.

Economic Duress: Some parties can be threatened that their economy will be crippled if they don’t give in to a stronger party’s demands. A good example is how North Korea was compelled by the US to stop its manufacture of nuclear weapons, or lose all its trading partners.  The US sent a warning to oil-producing countries not to supply the Asian country, exerting economic duress.

Threats to Goods: Some countries or people are coerced into believing that their goods will be destroyed unless they meet certain conditions. If the party confesses the grounds under which the agreement was made, it can be pardoned, and the arrangement cancelled. A good example is threatening to burn someone’s house down to get them to sign an agreement.

Definition of Undue Influence

Undue influence is describes a situation where a dominant party uses its power to exploit a helpless party to agree to all its terms.

The definition of undue influence describes situations where people use their position in society unethically. The end justifies the means to such people, and examples include:

Actual Undue Influence: In this scenario, the victim is supposed to present evidence to the court, usually supported by exhibits. Courts require that witnesses also testify against the dominant party. In this case, everything in support of the accusation, including call recordings, transactions and transport are presented before the court to support the allegations.

Presumed Undue Influence: In this case, presenting evidence is unnecessary, since the law prohibits the use of one’s authority over another person in an unethical way. For instance, if a parent uses their position to force their children to commit an offence, they can be charged with presumed undue influence.

Main Differences Between Duress vs Undue Influence

Basis of ComparisonDuressUndue Influence
Short DescriptionA lesser party is forced to enter into an agreement by a dominant party using violenceA dominant party uses their position to exploit a lesser party with threat of legal action if they fail to sign an agreement
Freedom to ConsentThere is no freedom for the weaker party to consent, they act because no reasonable alternatives offered to themThe weaker party has some freedom to refuse consent, but due to unethical influence, they cannot exercise it fully
The Fate of the ContractThe court terminates any agreement signed under duress and takes action against the offendersAn agreement entered under it is not legally binding and can be set aside by the wronged party should they wish it

Difference Between Duress and Undue Influence: Conclusion

An agreement that is made using duress or undue influence is not recognized by law and should be declared null and void. It is important to understand the difference between duress vs. undue influence. This knowledge can help save your life, protect you or your property from harm, and help you to avoid any legal ramifications at a later date.