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Misrepresentation of Age

15 January, 2016 - 09:32

A third exception involves misrepresentation of age. Certainly, that the adult reasonably believed the infant was an adult is of no consequence in a contract suit. In many states, an infant may misrepresent his age and disaffirm in accordance with the general rule. But it depends. If an infant affirmatively lies about his age, the trend is to deny disaffirmation. A Michigan statute, for instance, prohibits an infant from disaffirming if he has signed a “separate instrument containing only the statement of age, date of signing and the signature.” And some states estop him from claiming to be an infant even if he less expressly falsely represented himself as an adult. Estoppel is a refusal by the courts on equitable grounds to allow a person to escape liability on an otherwise valid defense; unless the infant can return the consideration, the contract will be enforced. It is a question of fact how far a nonexpress (an implied) misrepresentation will be allowed to go before it is considered so clearly misleading as to range into the prohibited area. Some states hold the infant liable for damages for the tort of misrepresentation, but others do not. As William Prosser, the noted torts scholar, said of cases paying no attention to an infant’s lying about his age, “The effect of the decisions refusing to recognize tort liability for misrepresentation is to create a privileged class of liars who are a great trouble to the business world.” 1