What is a Clerical Error?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A clerical error or clerical mistake is a mistake made by a clerk who is charged with recording or transmitting a document. The error changes the meaning of the document in some way. There are procedures in place for fixing clerical errors so that documents can be altered to be correct, as it is recognized that errors do happen and there is no benefit in making it difficult to correct them. However, repairing a clerical error is distinct in procedure from making other changes to a document.

There are procedures for fixing clerical errors so that documents can be altered to be correct.
There are procedures for fixing clerical errors so that documents can be altered to be correct.

In law, people may use the term “scrivener's error” to refer to a mistake in a legal document, referring to the scriveners who historically prepared legal documents. Other types of clerical errors large and small can occur in offices all over the world. Error is also separate from misprision, in which a clerk deliberately alters the meaning of a document for fraudulent purposes.

As soon as a clerical error is identified, it should be addressed and corrected. Ideally, such errors should be located before a document is finalized. For example, if someone is making an offer on a house and wants to put down $30,000 United States Dollars (USD) as a deposit and a clerk records it as $3,000 USD, this should be corrected before the offer is signed and dispatched to the sellers. Likewise, when people prepare to sign contracts and other legal documents, they should review these documents for typographical errors, transposed numbers, and other problems that may change their meaning.

If a mistake is identified after a document is finalized, the document can still be corrected, and the mistake is not viewed as binding. For instance, if a civil suit rules that a plaintiff must pay $5,000 USD in damages to the defendant and a clerk of the court accidentally records it as $50,000 USD, the plaintiff is not obliged to pay the larger amount. Instead, the document is amended to reflect the fact that a clerical error occurred and the plaintiff is expected to pay the damages as awarded in court.

It can sometimes be difficult to spot a clerical error, and sometimes such errors are only uncovered long after the fact. It is advisable to have a lawyer review documents relating to legal matters so that they can be checked both for errors which may cause problems in the future and for terms and clauses which may not be favorable.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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