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Undue Influence as a Defense Against a Breach of Contract Lawsuit in California

by | Oct 10, 2022 | Breach Of Contract

Buffington Law Firm’s Breach of Contract and Trust litigation attorneys frequently represent clients in the context of lawsuits involving Undue Influence.  To be clear, California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 15610.70 provides that undue influence is the excessive persuasion that causes another person to act or refrain from acting by overcoming that person’s free will and results in inequity.  [Welf. & Inst. Code § 15610.70].  Put simply, a typical Undue Influence case might involve someone pressuring (for example) a very elderly person into entering into a contract which is very unfair to the elderly person.  Once the victim understands that he or she has been taken advantage of, they generally need legal representation to nullify the contract. Buffington Law Firm has represented numerous victims in this context.

California law provides essentially that if a defendant proves that he or she entered into a contract as a consequence of Undue Influence, the Court may exercise rescission over the contract, in other words, void the victim’s liability under the contract.  California Civil Code Section 1689 provides, in relevant part:   (b) A party to a contract may rescind the contract … (1) If the consent of the party rescinding, or of any party jointly contracting with him, was given by mistake, or obtained through duress, menace, fraud, or undue influence, exercised by or with the connivance of the party as to whom he rescinds, or of any other party to the contract jointly interested with such party.  [Cal. Civil Code Section 1689].  Undue Influence essentially is an affirmative defense to a breach of contract claim in these circumstances and a defendant should plead it as such in his or her Answer to Complaint, when filed with the Court.

It is important to note that for Undue Influence to apply, it is not necessary that the victim be mentally impaired, e.g. suffer from dementia, or lack legal capacity.  All that is necessary is that the perpetrator has exercised (in the judgment of the Court or jury) “excessive persuasion.”  Typically this does involve weakness of mind on the part of the victim, but this can be due to age, illness, or other factors besides outright mental impairment or dementia.  (Certainly these are indeed causes of weakness of mind that often support a finding of Undue Influence.)  Essentially the Court must find that excessive persuasion by the perpetrator resulted in the victim acting in accordance with the perpetrator’s wishes, rather than the victim’s wishes.

In these circumstances, the defendant/victim may have grounds for a cross-complaint for  Financial Elder Abuse.   Buffington Law Firm has successfully employed this litigation strategy many times, to good effect.  Financial Elder Abuse is a serious problem in California.

If you are involved in a breach of contract case involving undue influence or have a similar legal problem, Buffington Law Firm invites you to call us for a no-obligation Free Legal Consultation.  All consultations are with an experienced litigation trial attorney and are protected by the attorney-client privilege.  Call us today!