If words and figures do not match…
Last week a client asked about a problem she had with a contract. She had recently started providing consultancy services and didn’t have her own terms and conditions. She had to use those of the large company to which she was providing her advice.
Their conditions stated all amounts twice, once in figures and a second time in words. This is commonly seen, as in the following general example:
“We will pay you £1000 (one thousand pounds sterling) within 30 days of you completing the Services”.
What was agreed orally with her was that she would be paid £2,000, but the written contract said:
“We will pay you £2,000.00 (one thousand five hundred pounds sterling) within 30 days of you completing the Services”
Subsequently, the company told her they were only going to pay the amount written in words and not that in figures (£1,500 and not £2,000). They said that their lawyers had advised them that it was the amount in words which was binding and not the amount in figures. In effect they told her, take the £1,500 or walk away from the contract.
Unfortunately for her, it could be said that the company is right. There is a presumption, if a dispute such as this ended up in a court room, that amounts written in words are correct if there is a difference between them and those written as figures. The presumption is that it is easier to make a mistake in writing out figures then words.
If she could clearly show that the difference was a mistake then a court would be able to correct it, and override the general presumption (the courts have the power to correct mistakes by interpreting the wording used and by determining what the parties’ intentions were). A clear and unambiguous written record of what the parties discussed and negotiated and agreed would help her.
Irrespective of the legal rights and wrongs, the cost of taking legal action is likely to exceed the amount of the difference.
Given the amount involved, it would be heard in the small claims court, but any litigation is time consuming and would take the client away from earning money.
Plug: I am working on the third edition of Drafting and Negotiating Commercial Contracts. Due for publication in October 2011. You can order your copy now or see what was said about the second edition.
Informative plug: The whole subject of “Mistakes and what to do about them” is one of the new topics to feature in the new edition. If there is something you would like to see in the book please contact me or Mark Anderson.