$5 million diamond contracted to sell for 20 times less was an honest mistake, appeals court rules

By John Breslin | Aug 8, 2018

MIAMI – A dispute over a loose diamond worth approximately $5 million but was contracted to be purchased for just $235,000 has led to a recent decision by Florida's Third District Court of Appeal in favor of the seller, ruling a "unilateral mistake" was made.

The underlying case involves the attempted purchase of the more than 20 carat loose diamond in 2013 by Thomas DePrince while aboard a cruise ship.

DePrince told the manager of the onboard jewelry boutique, operated by Starboard, he wanted to buy a high quality 15 to 20 carat loose diamond, but there was no jewel of that type in store.

Messages were passed between the store manager, his head office in California and the company's diamond buyer.

Two such diamonds were found, with the sale price listing one for $235,000, the other for $245,000. But neither the store manager, nor his corporate office contact, knew that the listed prices were per carat.

DePrince contracted with Starboard to buy a 20.64 carat piece for $235,000, even though the wholesale price was just over $4.8 million. He paid with his American Express credit card.

Starboard soon discovered their error, notified DePrince, and reversed the charge.

DePrince sued for breach of contract. Starboard argued it was a "unilateral mistake," which legally allows a contract to be rescinded in certain circumstances.

Various court hearings followed, including a jury trial in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court that found in favor of Starboard.

The full, en banc, appeals court was asked to consider, with Judge Robert Joshua Luck writing the opinion filed Aug. 1.

"Competent substantial evidence supported the jury’s finding that all the required elements for unilateral mistake had been met," Luck wrote. "Starboard received incorrect information from its home office, which caused the company to quote a price that was a fraction of the company’s cost to purchase the diamond wholesale."

On that basis, the "unilateral mistake" defense was sufficient, and the appeals court affirmed the trial court's judgment for Starboard.

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