Mistake: Legal terminology

Shivendra Pratap Singh


High Court Lucknow


Reading Time:

In legal parlance, terms related to mistakes can vary based on the jurisdiction, context, and the specific area of law. However, here are some commonly used legal terms related to mistakes:

1. Mistake of Fact

This refers to an erroneous belief about something that is not in accord with the facts or reality. A mistake of fact may serve as a defense in both criminal and civil cases, depending on the circumstances.

2. Mistake of Law

This refers to a mistaken understanding or interpretation of the law relevant to a situation. In most jurisdictions, a mistake of law is generally not considered a valid defense.

3. Unilateral Mistake

This occurs when one party in an agreement is mistaken about the terms, subject matter, or some other element of the contract. This type of mistake does not usually void a contract unless it’s so significant that the other party should have recognized it.

4. Bilateral Mistake (Mutual Mistake)

A bilateral mistake occurs when both parties to a contract are mistaken about the same material fact within their contract. In many cases, a contract with a bilateral mistake is voidable.

5. Fundamental Mistake

This refers to a mistake so serious that it significantly changes the nature of what was considered in the agreement. A fundamental mistake can often lead to a contract being voided.

6. Clerical Mistake

This refers to errors made in writing, typing, or data entry that are clearly unintended.

7. Negligence

While not a “mistake” in the literal sense, negligence refers to a failure to exercise reasonable care, leading to damage or harm. Negligence could be considered a legal ‘mistake’ in that it involves a failure to act appropriately.

8. Material Mistake

A mistake is ‘material’ if it has a significant impact on the contract’s performance or subject matter. Such mistakes can often lead to the contract being voided or reformed.

9. Non-Material Mistake

A non-material mistake is a minor error that does not impact the overall substance of the contract. Such mistakes generally do not provide grounds for voiding a contract.

10. Rescission

This is a remedy in contract law that effectively cancels the contract, returning both parties to their original positions. Rescission may be an option when a mistake significantly impacts a contract.

11. Reformation

In some cases, a court may choose to “reform” a contract to correct a mistake so that it aligns with the parties’ original intent, rather than voiding it altogether.

12. Duress

This term refers to a situation where one party influences or coerces another party into making a decision, including signing a contract. While not a mistake, per se, it’s a concept related to errors in judgment due to undue pressure.

13. Fraudulent Misrepresentation

This involves knowingly making false statements to induce another party into a contract. If discovered, it can result in the contract being voided.

Understanding these terms can provide a clearer picture of the legal implications of mistakes in various contexts. Always consult a legal professional for advice tailored to your specific circumstances.