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Contract Under Duress, Ratification

A contract may be invalid if it is created under duress. Indeed, depending on the facts, duress can serve as an affirmative defense to a breach of contract claim. In Missouri, the question of whether duress played a part in the execution of a contract is a case-by-case inquiry. State ex rel. State Highway Commission v. City of St. Louis, 575 S.W.2d 712, 722 (Mo. Ct. App. 1978). The key question with duress is not the nature of any outside threats, but, rather, the state of mind induced thereby in the victim. Id. Ultimately, the judge/jury must decide whether the duress rendered the party to the contract bereft of the free exercise of his/her will power. In deciding this issue, age, gender, capacity, factual situations, relationships between the parties, threats, etc. may all be admissible evidence.

Interestingly, a contract under duress is voidable — not void. In other words, even though the contract may be  susceptible to a legal challenge at its creation, it may nevertheless be resurrected or solidified through action or inaction. Therefore, if a coerced party intends to assert duress and repudiate a contract, he or she must do so with reasonable diligence after the duress is removed/abated. If there is an undue delay, it may legally constitute a ratification and confirmation of the contract.

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