Often I am consulted on situations where parties allegedly have an “agreement” that was never put in writing. As usual, one party believes she got the short end of the proverbial stick based on the terms of their verbal understanding. While it is true that certain agreements must be in writing to be legally valid there are other agreements can be verbal and binding. The key is knowing which is which but why not avoid this altogether and get all significant agreements in writing and signed by all the parties?
On other occasions I am consulted on situations where a party has a signed agreement but failed to read or adequately review the agreement before signing. The law is pretty clear on these scenarios: parties are charged with the responsibility to understand what they sign. The law assumes you have read, understood, and agreed to contracts and documents that you sign. There a few limited exceptions to this “you sign, you bind..even if it was partially blind” rule: incapacity to contract, fraud, and illegality of contract. You should not rely on the ability to use one of these exceptions as an “out” to what you perceive to be a bad contract. Make sure you read and understand and ask all necessary questions…then sign.
And there are situations where a party recalls having signed an agreement but failed to receive or retain a copy of the agreement. This is tough……..without the written agreement how can you or an attorney adequately assess the terms and conditions to which you may have agreed? Moreover what if the other party produces a document which is materially different from the agreement you recall having signed. How confident can you be that the document presented by the other party is not the actual agreement you signed? Hmm….
There have been countless potential clients whose cases I was unable to handle or even evaluate because of problems with documents. How can you avoid some or all of these pitfalls? One thing I would advise in every situation where you sign an agreement you believe to be of significance is the “read, sign, receive, and retain” approach. Allow me to elaborate..
Read the document carefully. If you have questions ask them. If something is missing or confusing in the document or proposed agreement have this clarified and edited before you sign. It may take a while and it may take some negotiating but depending on the significance of the agreement it could well be worth the work.
Sign the document and ensure the other party or parties to the agreement also sign. Failure to sign could mean a party is not bound by the contract at hand.
Receive a copy of the fully signed agreement. Preferably get a copy of the agreement at the time it is signed by all parties or soon thereafter.
Retain your copy of the agreement. Put it in a safe place. In the case of vehicle transactions DO NOT keep your documents in your vehicle. I have seen far too many occasions where these documents mysteriously disappear from the vehicle when it goes back to a dealership or repair/service facility. Technology allows us to scan and copy agreements which could be a valuable backup if something happens to the original.
Read, sign, receive, and retain…….repeat and use this mantra for every important document you sign. Soon it will become second nature. It will always be a first priority.
If you have issues or questions regarding a contract feel free to contact me for a free consultation. And please be sure to have your contract(s) and all relevant writings ready for discussion….