Duress is the act of using threats, psychological pressure, or coercion to force someone into behaving in a way that is contrary to their wishes or interests. Simply put, duress can be generally defined as undue influence or unfair persuasion.
According to United States federal law, any agreement a person made under duress is considered invalid. Claims of duress are usually filed if a party wants to prove that their decision to enter into a contract was not made in good faith, and therefore they should not be required to uphold its obligations. In some circumstances, duress may be filed if a party fears for their life or safety. For instance, this may occur if a person is threatening physical harm to a party that refuses to sign a contract.
Duress laws have been enacted in order to maintain good faith and fairness in contract law. Under these principles, a person should be able to act (or not act) according to their own free will. Any contract that has been signed as a result of threats, psychological pressure or any other type of force may be deemed invalid.
As an example, assume that you are interested in purchasing a new apartment. After touring the property, you decide that the apartment is not suitable for your needs and inform the landlord that you will not be buying the apartment. As a result, the landlord holds a gun to your head and threatens that he will shoot you if you do not move forward with the purchase. Under these circumstances, you can sign the purchase contract and later rescind it in court by proving that you entered into the agreement under duress. Consequently, the contract will not be enforced.
Each state has different requirements when it comes to proving duress in court. While these rules vary, the party must generally prove that:
Duress is an essential legal term that plays an key role in business law, contract law and criminal law. If you need help proving that you entered an agreement or committed an illegal act under duress, reach out to one of our top-tier attorneys as soon as possible.