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Just file it under “oops” (7 costly clerical errors)

March 23, 2010

Everybody makes mistakes.  I have been known to make a few here and there, or so I’ve been told.  It still pains me to look at my NCAA Tournament bracket.  But I’m not alone.  Smart people make little mistakes all the time.  Even Google was technically a mistake.  (It was supposed to be “Googol”, what they thought would be short for googolplex)

What almost was

That mistake, however, did not result in the loss of millions of dollars.  Quite the opposite.  But some simple errors have led to some very expensive consequences.  Whether it’s a typo, misspelling,  or simple forgetfulness, the following clerical errors ended up with a heavy price tag.


And I thought Southwest had the best fares…

Alitalia Airlines is a carrier out of Italy that made a slight mistake on its website in 2006 regarding a fare from Toronto to Cyprus.  The fare advertised was $39.  It was supposed to be $3,900.  The rate was posted on a travel website and the rush was on.  As many as 2,000 tickets were sold for this price.

Probably didn't even pay for the fuel

While Alitalia initially tried to cancel all the tickets purchased for the wrong price, they eventually decided to honor the mistaken fares.  If all 2,000 people actually used their tickets, it adds up to a $7.72 million loss to the airline.


Punctuation is important

Despite text messaging and Twitter completely destroying the English language one poorly constructed run-on sentence at a time, punctuation can still make or break a deal.  In Canada, Aliant Inc. had a contract with Rogers Communications to install about 90,000 utility poles.  They signed a contract and the installation began.  But soon, the construction of a sentence in the 14 page contract caused an 18 month legal battle.

Make fun if you want, but the comma is mighty!

Rogers Communications thought they had an ironclad five year contract with Aliant.  However Aliant, being the grammar police that they are,  saw it differently. They cited this sentence:

The agreement “shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five-year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”

Had the second comma not been there, Aliant would have had to honor the first five years of the contract before anything could be changed.  But because of the comma, Aliant cancelled it early and almost tripled their prices, costing Rogers Communications $2.13 million.


Bad day for a day trader

In 2006, an broker for Mizuho Securities in Japan wanted to sell off a share of J-Com stock.  The price he wanted? ¥610,000.  So he entered it into the system and then noticed something slightly off.  He realized that he told the system to sell 610,000 shares for ¥1 each.

It was a bad day for the Tokyo Stock Exchange, as well as a bad day for hairstyles and hats.

Officials at Mizuho contacted the Tokyo Stock Exchange to attempt to halt the sale, but were unsuccessful.  The error cost the securities company approximately $340 million U.S.


And Aloha means goodbye

The state of Hawaii was already facing a budget deficit in 2009 when they took another hit.  It seems that their fiscal year for one of the departments did not end with the $8 million surplus they initially thought, but instead a $36 million deficit.  Because of a clerical error in the state accounting department, the $44 million collected as part of a delinquent tax program was counted twice.

I guess if debt has to go somewhere, it might as well be here.

Before the error was realized, the state did what every other government agency would do with a sudden influx of cash: they spent it.  After the money was spent, the error was found and the budget deficit reported.


Get out while you still can

A 41-story New York condominium development may not have sold as well as they thought.  Many people paid a lot of money for some of the condos at The Rushmore in early to mid-2009, but the properties were already worth less than what they paid.  Several of them went looking for a way to back out of the sales without losing their deposit.  They may have found it.

It had a view of the river, but the owners were underwater. HI-YO!!!

It seems that the contracts given to the buyers left an out clause if the first closing did not occur on time.  That time was supposed to be September 1, 2009.  In the contract, the listed date was September 1, 2008.  The first closing was not until February 2009.  The end to this one is not yet known, but it could cost the development company tens of millions of dollars.


That’s a lot of buses

In 2006, the New York City Department of Education made a mistake in their bookkeeping.  Apparently, there was a misspelling that had a word with one extra letter.  This word was not readable by their accounting system and, somehow, that system decided to therefore spend twice as much on transportation.  That year, $2.8 million was spent instead of the budgeted $1.4 million.

That's about 30 extra of these

The city had to come up with the money to replace it.  And much like the Hawaii thing, it amazes me that nobody noticed this.  If you were working somewhere and all of a sudden your budget doubles for no apparent reason, wouldn’t it be a good idea to bring it up at the next meeting?


Ignore court orders at your own risk

This is the one I read about that gave me the idea for this post.  Luckily for Pepsi, the ruling was thrown out recently.  But it could have been really bad.  You see, a couple guys were suing Pepsi over what they said was their idea about the way Pepsi produces Aquafina water.  They said they went to Pepsi with an idea, Pepsi said no, and then started using it anyways several years later.  The lawsuit was served at the company’s headquarters in North Carolina but took a while to get through the corporate chain to the legal department.  An employee misplaced the paperwork and Pepsi missed the court date.  The judge was not impressed.

What an unimpressed judge looks like

The men were awarded a judgement of $1.26 billion.  They were happy for a while, but then the judgement was thrown out and a trial ordered.  Time will tell how much cash the men may end up with.

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27 Comments leave one →
  1. March 23, 2010 8:09 am

    Googol isn’t short for “Googolplex.” And the Italian airline is Alitalia, not Alitilia.

    Normally I wouldn’t point these out, but given the article’s subject matter I figured Gaudere’s Law would be in effect.

    • March 23, 2010 8:37 am

      It figures that when I write a post about mistakes, I make one myself. I fixed Alitalia. The Googol thing was researched and I have to stick to my story on that one. It may not technically be short for googolplex, but they thought it was. The link is in the first paragraph.

      • dev permalink
        March 23, 2010 9:04 am

        The article you link does not state that googol was considered short for googolplex. Googolplex is 10^googol. They chose Googol because it was “shorter than”, not “short for” googolplex.

      • March 23, 2010 9:50 am

        Tomato tomato

      • May 25, 2015 11:16 am

        A googol is a different number than a googolplex. It’s like confusing the numbers four and fourteen. They have letters in common, but they are different numbers. Google was named after googol. Not googolplex.

  2. Page permalink
    March 23, 2010 1:09 pm

    Apples oranges

  3. March 23, 2010 5:22 pm

    “thrown out a recently”


  4. stephanie willis permalink
    March 24, 2010 5:31 am

    In the story about the condos, you misspelled “development”!! How ironic.

  5. Scott permalink
    March 24, 2010 10:06 am

    Quite a bit of interesting information here. I doubt anyone will lose millions over this release, despite the clerical errors mentioned in previous comments. Thank you for the interesting read!

  6. March 24, 2010 10:09 am

    You guys are dicks.

    • March 26, 2010 5:44 pm

      You don’t understand. None of them have ever made a mistake in their lives.

  7. --PatF permalink
    March 24, 2010 10:25 am

    Maybe punctuation is important but spelling is another matter:

    “They signed a contract and the intallation began.”

  8. jEFf permalink
    March 24, 2010 9:38 pm

    Dev and MM are correct. Googol is not short for Googolplex. A Googol is a 1 followed by 100 zeros. A Googolplex is a 1 followed by a Googol amount zeros. These are wildly different numbers. A Googolplex is so large that if you counted every single atom in the entire universe, you wouldn’t get to a Googleplex.

    So, it’s not Tomato tomato. The differences are beyond astronomical.

    Sorry – I had to point that out. 😉

    • Artful Dodger permalink
      March 25, 2010 5:07 pm

      We’re all sorry you had to point that out.

      • G00 permalink
        March 26, 2010 8:48 am

        Not all of us.

        So we know a G00g0lplex is a 1 followed by g00g0l amount of zeros, and a g00g0l is a 1 followed by 100 zeros, but do you know what a G00 is?

        A G followed by two zeros.

  9. March 29, 2010 9:53 pm

    Nice Article very informative & usefull for me thanks…

  10. April 7, 2010 6:59 am

    Are you testing us? If so, very clever.

    judgment — without inserting the e — is the accepted spelling.

    Check out this Website: Common Errors:

  11. January 13, 2011 10:43 am

    Another realizable provenience of advisement in the interest of teenagers is television, but boob tube’s dispatch has at all times been that the distress for genuineness, clear-headedness and world peace pales past comparison with the poverty to a toothpaste that offers whiter teeth *and* fresher breath.

  12. Karuna permalink
    August 15, 2011 11:58 pm

    Nice read! One more error that needs fixing: in the story about the stock broker you said “an broker, ” it should be “a broker.”

  13. jEFf permalink
    September 22, 2014 1:55 pm

    I do not believe that the founders of Google mistakenly misspelled Google by typing what they thought was short for googolplex. The word googol already existed and preempted the word googolplex and googol is not short for googolplex. As mentioned by others in the comments, a googol is a one followed by one hundred zeros and a googolplex is a one followed by a googol amount of zeros. Those two numbers are dramatically different. A googolplex a number so large that if you were to print it out on a piece of paper and each digit was the size of an atom and you left no amount of space next to each digit, the paper would not fit in the known universe… It’s that big…
    The Google guys just simply misspelled googol as Google.


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