ambiguity

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Ambiguity

Uncertainty or doubtfulness of the meaning of language.

When language is capable of being understood in more than one way by a reasonable person, ambiguity exists. It is not the use of peculiar words or of common words used in a peculiar sense. Words are ambiguous when their significance is unclear to persons with competent knowledge and skill to understand them.

There are two categories of ambiguity: latent and patent. Latent ambiguity exists when the language used is clear and intelligible so that it suggests one meaning but some extrinsic fact or evidence creates a need for interpretation or a choice among two or more possible meanings. In a classic case, Raffles v. Wichelhaus, 159 Eng. Rep. 375 (Ex. 1864), a contract was made to sell 125 bales of cotton that were to arrive on a ship called Peerless that sailed from Bombay, India. Unknown to the parties to the contract, two ships of the same name were to arrive from the same port during different months of the same year. This extraneous fact necessitated the interpretation of an otherwise clear and definite term of the contract. In such cases, extrinsic or Parol Evidence may be admitted to explain what was meant or to identify the property referred to in the writing.

A patent ambiguity is one that appears on the face of a document or writing because uncertain or obscure language has been used.

In the law of contracts, ambiguity means more than that the language has more than one meaning upon which reasonable persons could differ. It means that after a court has applied rules of interpretation, such as the plain meaning, course of dealing, Course of Performance, or Trade Usage rules to the unclear terms, the court still cannot say with certainty what meaning was intended by the parties to the contract. When this occurs, the court will admit as evidence extraneous proof of prior or contemporaneous agreements to determine the meaning of the ambiguous language. Parol evidence may be used to explain the meaning of a writing as long as its use does not vary the terms of the writing. If there is no such evidence, the court may hear evidence of the subjective intention or understanding of the parties to clarify the ambiguity.

Sometimes, courts decide the meaning of ambiguous language on the basis of who was responsible or at fault for the ambiguity. When only one party knew or should have known of the ambiguity, the unsuspecting party's subjective knowledge of the meaning will control. If both parties knew or should have known of the uncertainty, the court will look to the subjective understanding of both. The ambiguity no longer exists if the parties agree upon its meaning. If the parties disagree and the ambiguous provisions are material, no contract is formed because of lack of mutual assent.

Courts frequently interpret an ambiguous contract term against the interests of the party who prepared the contract and created the ambiguity. This is common in cases of adhesion contracts and insurance contracts. A drafter of a document should not benefit at the expense of an innocent party because the drafter was careless in drafting the agreement.

In Constitutional Law, statutes that contain ambiguous language are void for vagueness. The language of such laws is considered so obscure and uncertain that a reasonable person cannot determine from a reading what the law purports to command or prohibit. This statutory ambiguity deprives a person of the notice requirement of Due Process of Law, and, therefore, renders the statute unconstitutional.

ambiguity

n. when language has more than one meaning. If the ambiguity is obvious it is called "patent," and if there is a hidden ambiguity it is called "latent." If there is an ambiguity, and the original writer cannot effectively explain it, then the ambiguity will be decided in the light most favorable to the other party.

ambiguity

uncertainty in meaning. In legal documents an ambiguity maybe patent (i.e. apparent from a perusal of the document) or latent (i.e. one that becomes apparent in the light of facts that become known from sources outside the document). The general rule is that extrinsic evidence can be used to resolve latent ambiguity but not patent ambiguity. Since a landmark case in the UK in 1992, an ambiguity in a statute will allow the court to hear not only the terms of law commission reports but also of the debates in Parliament as recorded in Hansard.

AMBIGUITY, contracts, construction. When au expression has been used in an instrument of writing which may be understood in more than one sense, it is said there is an ambiguity,
     2. There are two sorts of ambiguities of words, ambiguitas latens and ambiguitas patens.
     3. The first occurs when the deed or instrument is sufficiently certain and free from ambiguity, but the ambiguity is produced by something extrinsic, or some collateral matter out of the instrument; for example, if a man devise property to his cousin A B, and he has two cousins of that name, in such case parol evidence will be received to explain the ambiguity.
     4. The second or patent ambiguity occurs when a clause in a deed, will, or other instrument, is so defectively expressed, that a court of law, which has to put a construction on the instrument, is unable to collect the intention of the party. In such case, evidence of the declaration of the party cannot be submitted to explain his intention, and the clause will be void for its uncertainty. In Pennsylvania, this rule is somewhat qualified. 3 Binn. 587; 4 Binn. 482. Vide generally, Bac. Max. Reg. 23; 1 Phu. Ev. 410 to 420; 3 Stark. Ev. 1021 ; I Com. Dig. 575; Sudg. Vend. 113. The civil law on this subject will be found in Dig. lib. 50, t. 17, 1. 67; lib. 45, t. 1, 1. 8; and lib. 22, t. 1, 1. 4.

References in periodicals archive ?
In order to eliminate the ambiguousness of this definition, the FDIC provides the following requirements for a depository institution to qualify as a minority depository institution.
Although Disgrace was not the most artistically finished of his novels, it had an air of finality to it, the sense of an author ready to abandon the struggle with the intractabilities of the novel form, of a man tormented by and disgusted with the moral ambiguousness of fiction.
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However, his very ambiguousness prevents the reader from accepting the transparency of his tale.
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Susan Bordo finds such sexual ambiguousness more destabilizing to gender identities than imitative drag or butch-femme performances.
State B's lack of perfect information about the intentions of State A is not only the source of the ambiguousness of the alternatives but also compounds the effect of the alternative selected as a course of action.
This strange find makes him even more curious when Langlois is taken back by the ambiguousness that shrouds the author's name.
In Chapter 8, Jeff Hearn grounds on his own experience as a male manager in a university to explore the potentialities and the ambiguousness of equal opportunities in the current ideological climate of universities.
appears to approach things with a keen eye for ambiguousness, as he wants to investigate the possible connection between the spread of popular heresy and the growing academic interests of the age.
There is a great deal of ambiguousness in the use of "disinhibition," and it is sometimes hard to tell whether the descriptive or the explanatory meaning is intended.