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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Scrivener's Errors, Redux

This must be my phase for updates of old posts, even where there's no new ERISA angle.  Previously, I posted on the Verizon case, where a clear scrivener's error almost cost the plan sponsor a billion (!) dollars.  Now, we have a Michigan case, El-Hayek v. Trico Products, in which a clear typographical error almost led to severance of . . . 22 times salary.  Once again, the court held that reformation of the contract, rather than a ridiculously absurd windfall, was the right answer.

One could take from all this the message that the courts are not likely to reward undeserving people with huge sums over typographical errors.  Cf. an old Prudential case involving several ships.  But I take away two contrary points: (i) it's scary how close people are getting successfully to carting off these windfalls (these are not necessarily straightforward cases from a legal perspective), notwithstanding how undeserving they may be, and (ii) gee golly would I EVER not want to be the person who's on the wrong end of making these kinds of typos (there but for the . . .).  See also examples of where money was indeed lost by virtue of an out-and-out mistake, including the GM/JPM debacle.*

* . . . and, going back several more years, there was the widely discussed case in which zeroes were left out of a number in a filing by a big firm, with the result that the creditor was left undersecured by millions.

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