Duty to Read Your Contract?

            I am sure at least once in our lives we have been guilty of skimming through the pages upon pages of terms and agreements before signing or checking the “I agree to the terms and conditions” button. Is there a duty under law to not only read the contents but also understand them before you sign or “click” away? According to two Missouri contract cases, there is a duty, but it is not absolute.

Going as far back as 1974 in a law review article written by John D. Calamari, the traditional “duty to read” rule stated that, “a party who signs an instrument manifests assent to it and may not later complain that he did not read the instrument or that he did not understand its contents.” Of the exceptions listed in the law review are ones such as when the document is not legible, when provisions are not sufficiently called to the attention of one party, and instances in which there are incidents of fraud and mistake. Calamari points out there modernly, there has been a growing change in the way people are starting to look at adhesion or standard form contracts, which are a type of contract, a legally binding agreement between two parties to do a certain thing, in which one side has all the bargaining power and uses it to write the contract primarily to his or her advantage.

This modern trend can be seen in the Missouri cases of Grossman v. Thoroughbred Ford, Inc., 297 S.W.3d 918, 922 (Mo. App. W.D. 2009) where the court explained that the law, “presumes that a party had knowledge of the contract he or she signed; and those who sign a contract have a duty to read it and may not avoid the consequences of the agreement on the basis that they did not know what they were signing,” and the subsequent case of Lonergan v. Bank of America, N.A., decided about a year ago. In the Lonergan case, the court ruled, “although the duty to read creates a presumption, the presumption can be overcome.” 

In any instance, it is always a good idea to thoroughly read through the content of a contract before signing your name or agreeing to the terms and conditions.

 

 

Articles used as reference:

  • http://www.thecontractsguy.net/2014/01/19/the-duty-to-read-is-not-absolute/#more-1878[1]

 



[1] Katrina Nicha

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