ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Jeremy Telman
Oklahoma City University
School of Law

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Once Again, the Mistaken Party Pays. This Time, I Don't Think They Should.

Screenshot 2024-04-27 at 5.45.40 AMLast week, Emily Schmall reported in The New York Times about a Mexican man who found Cartier Earrings on sale on the company's Mexican website for 237 pesos, which is about thirteen dollars.  He knew that the earrings, described as "slender studded 18-carat rose-gold cuffs lined with diamonds," were worth far more than that, so he jumped at the offer.  He bought two pairs. Cartier noticed the mistake and corrected it, adjusting the price to 237,000 pesos. 

Cartier attempted to cancel the order. It attempted to buy off the purchaser with freebies.  He wouldn't budge.  He availed himself of Mexico's consumer protection laws and filed a complaint with the Matamoros branch of the federal consumer protection agency.  However, as one corporate attorney interviewed by the Times noted, the consumer does not win when the price quote is clearly a mistake.  But the buyer had mounted a social media campaign, and Cartier decided to save itself a prolonged legal battle and the potential attendant negative publicity.  The company filled the order, and the buyer dismissed his complaint.

Jeffrey-Lipshaw_960x860I'm not happy for him.  He was not fooled by a misleading advertisement.  Cartier was not offering a lost leader.  It was an obvious mistake, and he knew it was a mistake.  These things are going to be happening more and more often as AI takes over website management.  There will be simple transcription or calculation errors, and there is no scrivener to blame.  

But scrivener's error doctrine should still apply.  Neither party really thought that the designer gold and diamond earrings were being offered for the cost of shipping and handling.  Reformation is the right result here, and if the buyer is not interested in paying what he knew to be the actual price of the earrings, then the contract should be avoided.  Jeff Lipshaw (left) shared with us a similar case of a scrivener's error being treated as a unilateral mistake back in 2022.  That case is still, shockingly, working its way through the courts and may result in an $11 million windfall for a wholly undeserving litigant.  Rule 11 sanctions for the attorney and a "don't piss on my leg and tell me that it's raining" screed from the bench seem like a better outcome.

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Excellent analysis.

Posted by: Timothy Murray | May 2, 2024 8:50:50 AM