Know Your Rights: Computer mistake is seller's problem

By Richard Alderman
Dec. 8, 2012 at 6:08 a.m.

I ordered something from an online sale. I received an email confirmation with the price and delivery date. The next day, the business sent me an email stating that their computer had made an error.The ad stated the quantity was limited, but they sold more at the sale price than stated. They apologized and told me it would be delivered on schedule but that the regular price would be charged to my credit card. Can they do this?

In my opinion, they have absolutely no legal right to charge you the regular price unless you agree and probably are obligated to sell it at the stated price.

Whenever you buy something, either online of in a store, your rights are determined by contract law. A store does have the right to limit quantity, as long as the limit is disclosed. In your case, the store was only obligated to sell the stated quantity at the sale price. For example, the store could have refused to sell the product to you if they had reached the stated quantity. In fact, however, they made a mistake and did sell it to you.

And the law of mistake basically says that if one party makes a mistake it cannot get out of a contract based on that mistake. For example, what do you think the store would say if you contacted them the next day and said "Sorry, I made a mistake. I don't have enough money to pay for this, so I'll just pay less"? My guess is they would say, "Too bad we have a contract," and that is what you should say to them. Unless there is some reason you knew it was a mistake and tried to take advantage of their error, the business has an obligation to sell you the item at the price indicated in your confirmation.

I lease a few houses. I have had serious problems with bounced checks. Can I tell tenants I will only take cash and will not accept a check?

As a general rule, most people consider cash and a check the same thing. If the store clerk says "cash or credit," a check is accepted as cash. As you discovered, however, they are very different. Only cash is legal tender that may be freely exchanged. And cash can't bounce. If a landlord wants payment in cash, he or she has the right to insist on payment in cash. If you want to be paid in cash, however, you should make this clear to the tenant before the lease is signed and make it a term of the lease. You also must give the tenant a written receipt for each rent payment.

I was three months behind on my car payment so I gave my car back to the company that financed it. What will happen next? Can my wages be garnished?

What will happen now is the lender will sell the car and apply what is obtained at the sale to what you owe. If the car is sold for less than you owe, you will owe the difference to the lender. The lender will then try to collect that debt in the same manner any other debt could be collected. In Texas, however, there is no wage garnishment for this type of debt, even if you are sued and lose. To see what steps may be taken to collect, check out the debt collection section on my website,

How long after an automobile accident do I have to file a lawsuit?

The legal basis for most automobile accidents is negligence. In Texas, you have two years after the date of the accident to file.

I want to make it clear that I do not wish to be kept alive by a machine. Can I write my own living will? Is there any special language I should use?

As you seem to understand, the best way to insure that your wishes regarding the decision to be kept alive by life support are followed is to make sure you clearly spell out what you want to happen in the event you have a terminal condition.

You can do this by a document you prepare, but I strongly suggest you use the form the state of Texas has prepared. An "Advanced Directive," commonly called a living will, allows you to specify the treatment you would want in the event that you had a terminal condition. The document is a simple to understand form and is available free from my website below.

Richard Alderman, a consumer advocate popularly known as "the People's Lawyer," is a professor at the University of Houston Law School in Houston. His column appears weekly in the Victoria Advocate. Write to him at UH Law Center, Houston, Texas 77204-6391. He also maintains a Web page at



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