Duress and Undue Influence in Contract Law as Cognitive Trespass: An Essay

42 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2019

See all articles by Jeffrey Lynch Harrison

Jeffrey Lynch Harrison

University of Florida - Levin College of Law

Date Written: September 17, 2019


Much of contract law concerns how to treat instances in which one party is vulnerable to advantage taking by another. The cases fall into two groups. In some the advantage-taker just happens upon the vulnerable party and has no part in creating that vulnerability. This has been labeled “pure advantage taking.” In other cases, specifically duress and undue influence, the advantage-taker is responsible to some degree for creating that vulnerability. This is “active advantage” taking. In all cases, contract law takes a permissive approach by limiting the remedy to avoidance and restitution. This Essay argues that the permissive approach is inappropriate particularly in cases in which the vulnerability is created. Its position is that these are cases of cognitive trespass and should be treated as torts, thus leading to the availability of punitive damages. The analysis breaks with the tradition of viewing duress and undue influence through the lenses of free will, impairment of bargaining power or the fairness of the bargain. Instead it argues that illegitimate pressure alone is a harm that should be addressed regardless of the contractual outcome.

Keywords: contracts, cognition, duress, undue influence, trespass, stress

JEL Classification: k12,k13

Suggested Citation

Harrison, Jeffrey Lynch, Duress and Undue Influence in Contract Law as Cognitive Trespass: An Essay (September 17, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3455590 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3455590

Jeffrey Lynch Harrison (Contact Author)

University of Florida - Levin College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 117625
Gainesville, FL 32611-7625
United States

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics