Mistake

The term mistake is used in contract law to describe the situation in which one or both of the parties to an agreement acted under an untrue belief about the existence or nonexistence of a material fact. In mistake cases, unlike fraud and misrepresentation cases where the victim is also acting under a mistaken belief about the facts, the mistaken belief about the facts is not the product of a misstatement by the other party. Mistaken in this sense does not include errors of judgment, ignorance, or a party’s mistaken belief that he or she will be able to fulfill certain obligations under a contract. The things that were said about materiality and fact in the law misrepresentation hold true in mistake cases.

In deciding mistake cases, courts often seem to be trying more obviously to do justice than in other kinds of cases. This is why decisions in mistake cases sometimes seem to depart from the announced rules of law dealing with mistake.

Mistake cases are classified as mutual or unilateral, depending on whether both or only one of the parties was acting under a mistaken belief about a material fact. Mutual mistake is always a basis for granting rescission of the contract at the request of either party. Clearly, no meeting of the minds took place and therefore no true contract was ever formed.

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