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I am about to sue my moving company in S.C. court for issues related to an interstate move. There were 2 contracts, one initially acknowledged online by my sister to start the move and the 2nd, after a period of storage, acknowledged by me for the final transportation and unloading. At the point I was signing, I had already had MULTIPLE disagreements, fights, etc, etc with members of the company over one deceptive act after the other. Before acknowledging and paying, I even contacted a transportation lawyer (coincidentally, he's bringing this to USDOT separately to show this company's entire business practice is mis-representative and deceptive). In my first conversation though, he told me there's nothing I could do right then- just pay the money, acknowledge the contract, play nice and therefore get your stuff back. The details of how far the layers of deceit were at that point was not known to me but I knew right then it was wrong, especially given his level of interest. I also had emails already making the nice but threatening statement, "You must send in the statement or the delivery could be delayed." From my talks with the lawyer and simple google searches, I knew this meant don't risk the stuff being held hostage at even more expense and aggravation. Given all this, my overall question is could this meet grounds for a contract under duress? I know the obvious extreme examples and read about blackmail being included. Here however, clearly no one said anything out right threatening (but they didn't really have to in order to make the same point). Does this duress concept ever work against a corporation giving their ability to veil things?
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Duress occurs when someone is induced by some threat to perform an act which they were legally no otherwise required to do, and failure to perform that act would cause unwarranted harm to the individual.
If you can show that the conduct by the movers left you no choice, or other options and you had to pay them so you could exercise a legal option later then this could make the contract voidable. You will need to show what the duress was, why were you forced to do something you did not have to do. Completing the terms of an existing agreement is not considered duress. It is when you were not required to complete the agreement and you did so under threat is duress. You need to show that you were forced to give up some legal right that you have or suffer some harm.
The restatement of law - Contracts section 175 has the following example of duress:
A contracts with B to buy some goods. A needs the goods because he has no other means to get them. B decides to raise the price and if A fails to agree will not deliver the goods. A having no choice or alternative agrees to the higher price.
That contract is considered voidable because A did not have to accept the higher price but did so to get his product.
Excellent. I know this doesn't constitute individual counsel but I'd like to try and fill in the details to meet those steps to make sure I have the general idea right. The bullet point conclusion is on the bottom.
1) At the point of severe disagreement, I was actually facing 3 problems: misrepresentation that led me to believe I had full insurance, that I had climate controlled storage, and that my transportation costs were paid in a previous contract but now were said to not have been.
2) Importantly, I was not contracted anymore. In fact, I got so upset due to these 3 issues the lady told me on the phone I had to calm down or she would take away the possibility of me getting any further service from them (i.e. final transport) and force me to make arrangements for another truck to come to pick them up at the storage terminal.
3) I really did consider 2 options: suck it up and pay $1520 I didn't think I owed them (and acknowledge the online contract stating such which I believed was inaccurate) or find another moving company. However, as I was already panicking that they ruined my stuff completely by leaving it in FL weather for 2 years, I had to salvage any hope of getting anything meaningful from a damages claim (they would have dropped it from the contested $0.60/lb to 0.10 officially, would have been able to deny all responsibility with a he did it,no he did it argument, and I'd lose ANY chance of getting a bit better treatment in a claim than minimal coverage as she left the door open for with much pleading.
I therefore meet:
-known disagreement b/w parties
-this was in fact the initiation of a new contract
-I knew I had to agree to contested things like insurance and payment which would hurt my ability to sue to seek recourse later
-the ability to go with someone else was there but the practical reality of my losses from damages being even higher made this an even worse option
-threats of goods held hostage, although stated subtly, was reasonably interpreted by me
Thanks again for your help.
With respect to item two, if that was a realistic option without greater cost or threat of destruction of your property, then the fact you had another option could defeat a claim of duress. Duress requires you have no other viable option for the same contractual obligation.
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