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Ambiguity In Law

The practice of law is considered to be a vocation in the language. Legal documents such as contracts, statutes, and constitutions are prepared and brought into existence using words as the primary means of communication between the parties involved.

However, despite the fact that papers are produced with the greatest possible intentions, the meanings of the words contained within them are not always glaringly obvious and unequivocal all of the time. They could be able to be understood in more than one way, they might be ambiguous or uncertain, and they might be susceptible to being interpreted in a number of ways by a range of different people.

When parties who have an interest in what is intended find themselves in a position where they must resort to litigation and ask the court to provide its interpretation due to disagreements in understanding that cannot be resolved, the parties who have an interest in what is intended may find themselves in a position where they must interpret what is intended. Whenever a situation of this kind takes place, a commercial agreement or a legislative act is seen as having "ambiguity" from the point of view of the law. This is because both are subject to interpretation.

Ambiguity explained

Language that is contained in a document; rather, it is the outcome of a relatively little difficulty that arises when the provisions of the text are put into action or carried out. It would be considered unfair competition, for example, for a man to sell his wares to his relatives A and B if he has two cousins who share the same name. In this case, A and B are the man's relatives. This type of ambiguity is also referred to as extrinsic ambiguity by certain people.

On the other hand, an obvious ambiguity is one that can be easily seen on the cover of a document and that comes as a direct result of the language itself. This type of ambiguity might be considered as a potential problem for the reader. For instance, the phrases "two fifty dollars" suggest that a change should be retrieved for that amount; yet, when it is written down as "two hundred fifteen dollars," there is an obvious misunderstanding.

As long as there is no evidence that either party was deceived or that they made false statements to one another, the court will often allow the parties to rewrite the contract so that any ambiguity may be removed. In order to appreciate the intentions of the parties involved in a contract, a court may take into consideration the following criteria while interpreting the contract: Another essential factor that must be taken into consideration is whether or not anything at all is acceptable.

Could an objectively reasonable person infer that the term meant something from its context? Or, is it possible that someone may infer from it that it was an indication of what the other side had intended to do? When a single word or clause can be interpreted in two or more separate ways, this is an example of ambiguity.

There may be more than one possible interpretation. Due to the fact that legal papers are often quite lengthy and hard to comprehend, ambiguity is prevalent throughout the entirety of these types of writings.

Types of ambiguity:

Ambiguity is classified into the following:
  • Latent Ambiguity
    In a legal sense, latent ambiguity is confusion resulting from a word or term with multiple meanings that aren't clear when reading a legal document. This ambiguity usually becomes clearer when a collateral matter provides knowledge and additional insight
  • Patent Ambiguity
    Also known as intrinsic ambiguity, ambiguitas patens, or Section 93 of the Indian Evidence Act, patent ambiguity makes the intention behind a legal document unclear. Relying on the plain meaning of the words doesn't allow for clear interpretation. Instead, the document's obscure or senseless language makes its overall meaning ambiguous.
This happens, for instance, when a contract includes two sale prices that contradict each other. Patent ambiguities also arise in last wills and testaments, such as when a will doesn't state the gift for the beneficiary or offers the gift to many beneficiaries. Courts often find that a last will with a patent ambiguity is invalid. Most won't consider outside evidence to decide the meaning of the testator's intent.

Examples of ambiguity
  1. The following predicaments have been identified as including "ambiguity."
The case of Frigaliment Importing Co. v. B.N.S. International Sales Corp becomes entangled in the ongoing discussion on the definition of a chicken.

A purchase order has been made by Buyer, a company with headquarters in Switzerland. Hens that had been frozen and then had their stomachs removed; were obtained from a chicken wholesaler in New York. The order called for birds weighing between 2 and 3 pounds, with hens weighing between 1 1/2 and 2 pounds each.

When the shipment eventually arrives in Europe, the buyer is taken aback to discover that all of the larger birds are chickens intended for stewing. Buyer, who had anticipated receiving broilers and fryers, complains and sues Seller for breach of contract. The buyer had expected to receive the appliances. The buyer was anticipating the delivery of broilers and fryers.

The inquiry "what exactly is chicken?" is now being deliberated upon by the court. The purchaser who initiated the legal action contends that the term "chicken" refers to a young bird that may be cooked on a grill or in a fryer. The defendant is convinced that "any bird of the genus that fulfils contract terms on weight and quality" counts as a chicken. These conditions relate to the quality and weight of the bird.

Within the scope of this term is something that the defendant refers to as "stewing chicken." The Honorable Judge Friendly, who ruled over the case, stated that any interpretation had a chance of being accurate. As a direct result of this, he confirms the fact that "He decides to check into the contract to see whether it supplies any aid for the interpretation of the phrase "chicken" because the word "chicken" by itself is ambiguous.

The second case, known as Raffles v. Wichelhaus, is well-known among law students due to the notoriety that it has garnered. The peculiar events that made up this English case took place in the year 1864, which was a very long time before the development of telegraphs, cell phones, or electronic mail.

The buyer obtained the cotton in the shape of bales, which were afterward placed onto a ship known as the "Peerless," which then set sail from Bombay, India, to Liverpool, England. Because neither side was aware of the situation at the time, the fact that there were two different ships, both of which had the name "Peerless," was not brought up during the talks for the contract.

Both of them intended to leave Bombay at separate periods; one of them planned to go in October, and the other planned to leave in December. Because neither side was aware of the other's plans, the buyer assumed that the merchandise would be loaded onto the ship departing in October, but the seller had planned to load them onto a ship that would leave in December.

Neither party was aware of the other's intentions. When the October Peerless arrived in England on her cruise, she did not have any cotton bales to sell to the buyer. This is not something that should come as a surprise to anyone. When the shipment arrived in port on the December Peerless, the customer refused to take the item even though it was offered to them. Following that, the seller initiated legal action against the purchaser of the item.

There is nothing on the surface of the contract that indicates a specific ship called the "Peerless" was intended, the defense attorney who was arguing on behalf of the defendant buyer pointed out. However, as soon as it became apparent that two ships both named the "Peerless" were about to depart from Bombay, a latent ambiguity emerged.

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