In our modern age of information, it is all too common to be presented with a giant contract, full of fine print which, let’s face it–is a pain in the butt to read, let alone understand. Depending who you are, you might be “signing” contracts like this every day. For example, did you know every time you open an online user account for an internet service, by checking the box that says “I have read and agree to the terms and conditions” or anything to that effect, you are essentially signing a new contract?
Throughout the legal industry we refer to these form contracts as “boilerplate.” “Boilerplate” is basically standardized language used in legal contracts–and while boilerplate may often seem innocuous, it is actually drafted by extremely smart lawyers for the purpose of overwhelmingly favoring their own clients. In other words, when you blindly execute a boilerplate contract, there’s no telling how many of your rights you’re signing away.
So, given how prevalent these contracts are, how can you protect yourself? I recommend coming up with a general rule of thumb for determining whether or not to read and fully understand a contract you are executing. For example, you may decide that if you believe $2,000 or more is at stake in a contract, then you need to read and understand it before signing it. In this example, if you’re paying or getting paid more than $2,000, if you could have damages over 2,000, or if you’re counting on this contract to earn more than $2,000, it’s probably worth reading and understanding before executing it.
I do have to disclaim, however, that ANY time you fail to read a contract before signing it, you’re inviting risks because the courts will always charge you with having knowledge of the contracts that you sign. So be wise about making this decision. This includes construction contracts, insurance policies, and the terms and conditions for various web services you use and rely on.
In any of these scenarios, there may be a lot of terms you simply don’t understand. For these situations, and particularly when there’s lots of money at stake, we strongly recommend hiring an attorney to assist you in knowing exactly what your rights are before signing. At Asheville Legal, our construction, insurance, and business attorneys can help you figure this out and, if appropriate, we can even help you negotiate more favorable terms for your contract. Give us a call today if you need this kind of help.