As a legal concept, duress has a long tradition. Duress is related to the concept of undue influence. Duress exists when there is a threat of bodily harm, and the threat is immediate and cannot be avoided. Duress also exists in criminal law proceedings. In order for duress to exists in a contract law court proceeding there must be a wrongful or illegal threatened act.
A contract also cannot normally be made voidable because one of the parties is suffering from economic duress. Claims of duress are filed by parties to a contract seeking to prove that their assent to a contract was not genuine, and thus did not fulfill the essential requirements needed to form a contract.
A contract cannot be invalidated by a party to that contract who claims duress because the other party threatened to sue them for a larger amount, because the filing of a law suit is a legally permitted action. A claim of duress is distinct from instances where the consideration offered by one of the parties is the forbearance of an action.
Duress can be invoked if the party claiming they were acting under duress was in fear for their safety. An example of duress would be if a person is told to sign a contract or their family or they themselves would be harmed. This qualifies as duress because the consideration of forbearance is to forbear from doing an illegal act. If it is a wrongful or illegal threatened act then it constitutes an instance of duress.
A claim of economic duress is not usually permitted. Individuals are usually only able to successfully invoke a claim of economic duress if the other party in the contract is the immediate cause of the economic duress. Sometimes the courts permit a claim of economic duress to be filed in contracts which involve one party claims they are suffering from economic difficulties which are not caused by the other party in the contract, although such claims of economic duress are not usually accepted.
Economic duress does not exist simply if exorbitant prices are charged for goods or a service. However, if the high prices are charged by the same party that created the need for the good or service then a claim of economic duress may be permitted by the courts.
If the individual claiming the contract was formed under duress is able to prove their claim, then the courts may declare the contract voidable.