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Duress: Definition, Example and Related Terms

What is Duress ?

Duress is when someone is forced or pressured into doing something they wouldn't normally do. In the world of contracts, this can happen when one party to the contract threatens or coerces the other party into agreeing to the contract or certain terms. The pressure could come in many forms, like threats of physical harm, blackmail, or the threat of financial loss. If a contract is entered into under duress, it may not be legally binding. In other words, if you can prove that you only signed the contract because you were being threatened or pressured, a court might not enforce that contract against you. This is because the law wants contracts to be entered into freely and fairly. If one party is being bullied into the contract, that's not fair, and the contract may be invalid. Duress can be a complex issue in contract law, because it can be hard to prove, and because not all forms of pressure or persuasion are considered duress. For example, hard bargaining or aggressive negotiation tactics might be unpleasant, but they're not usually considered duress.


  • Scenario Description
    A company pressures a supplier into signing a contract by threatening to cancel all existing orders and bankrupt the supplier. This could be an example of economic duress. The supplier might feel that they have no choice but to agree to the contract, even if it has unfair terms, because the threat of financial loss is too great. If the supplier later wanted to challenge the contract, they would need to show that the company's threat was wrongful or illegitimate, and that it left them with no reasonable alternative but to sign the contract.
    A business partner threatens to reveal damaging information about the other partner unless they agree to certain contract terms. This could be an example of duress by threat or blackmail. The threatened partner might feel compelled to agree to the contract to prevent the damaging information from being revealed. If they later wanted to challenge the contract, they would need to show that the threat was wrongful, and that it caused them to enter into the contract.

Related terms