Do Typos Matter?

Kevin Underhill
why do typos matter?

why do typos matter?

Yes.

I need to pad out the rest of this column, though, so let me offer some examples of why typographical errors matter.

2006

Instead of setting a price of 610,000 yen for one share of stock, someone at Mizuho Securities sells 610,000 shares for one yen each. This costs the company well over $200 million.

2007

The Arkansas Legislature passes a bill that was intended to raise the minimum marriage age to 18, but leaves the word “not” out of an exception clause, inadvertently eliminating the minimum-age requirement entirely.

2015

In the United Kingdom, the High Court finds the government responsible for the damage a typo did to a Welsh company. An agency meant to report that “Taylor & Son, Ltd.,” was in liquidation, but instead used the name “Taylor & Sons, Ltd.” That company had been doing fine, but went bankrupt after clients and creditors were spooked by the false report. The extra “s” cost about $14 million (US).

2018

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is embarrassed (again) during a lawsuit challenging a voter-ID law after his team files proposed conclusions of law that they clearly have not proofread. If they had, they would likely have removed the note “PROBABLY NOT WORTH ARGUING?” next to one argument.

Most typos aren’t this catastrophic, of course. Like the one that will inevitably end up in this column, they're usually just embarrassing. But typos in court documents raise another problem: they can make the court question your credibility. In short, typos are to a court what brown M&Ms were to Van Halen.

I guess I need to explain.

van halen

van halen

Van Halen was a musical group popular in the 1980s (which I realize is probably before most TYL readers were born). The band had a contract rider demanding, among other things, a bowl of M&Ms from which all the brown ones had been removed. This was usually interpreted as evidence that fame had gone to their heads and they wanted to make people do ridiculous things just because they could. But David Lee Roth later wrote in his autobiography (and who are we to question David Lee Roth?) that the rider had a practical purpose: it was a simple way of testing local promoters' attention to detail:

We'd pull up with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks full of gear . . . [a]nd there were [often] many, many technical errors. . . . So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say . . . “There will be no brown M&Ms in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.” So when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl . . . well, [we'd] line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you're going to [find] a technical error. They didn't read the contract.

Typos are likely to have the same effect. If they missed these, a judge is likely to think, what else did they get wrong? That's a problem you can easily avoid, and should.

You don't want to be facing a judge who just trashed his dressing room because you left brown M&Ms in the bowl. Take it from David Lee Roth.

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Kevin Underhill

Kevin Underhill practices in the San Francisco office of Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP. He is, in fact, a partner. He also writes the legal-humor blog Lowering the Bar.