“Sign here, please.” We are all confronted with this casual request fairly frequently – at the bank, at the doctor’s office, at the pharmacy. Do we always know what we are signing? At the lawyer’s office – at least, at this lawyer’s office, we are careful to explain it to you, and give you time to read it.
But often, there is not even an opportunity to read what you are agreeing to. At one bank I visited recently, the customer was asked to sign an electronic pad which simply said “I agree that my signature will be affixed to certain forms in the bank’s records.” This amounted to signing a “blank check” so far as the customer’s rights were concerned.
Even if you have the written word in front of you, if it consists of more words than you could possibly read in the time you have, the effect is the same. Essentially, you are relying on the word of the person who is asking you to sign.
What to do? Well, you may need to decide, what’s at stake here? In some situations, you may decide there is enough at stake that you need to take the time to read the document before signing it. Sometimes, reading the document does not tell you enough. You may need to consult an industry expert, or even a lawyer.
Can you be bound by words you didn’t read? Yes, you can. Does that mean you have to read all the fine print, whenever anyone asks you to sign anything? No. The choice is yours. You can read it, or not. You sign at your own risk.
I am a lawyer by trade, but even I sometimes sign things without reading every word. Sometimes I decide that there is unlikely to be anything unusual in the document, and I want the good or service that will be provided if I sign. I know I have a choice, and I sometimes choose to sign, believing that reading the document will not lead me to choose otherwise. What do you do when someone says “sign here?”