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Those of us in Generation X and perhaps a little older remember LeVar Burton’s constant refrain in his PBS children’s show “Reading Rainbow”: “But you don’t have to take my word for it!” Mr. Burton was telling his young viewers that they do not have to take his word when it comes to what a book is about, they should read it themselves to find out.
As adults, Mr. Burton’s suggestion to not take his word for it applies even more. We read contracts and agreements and other sorts of documents regularly, whether that is when do something significant like buy houses or cars, to something more mundane like secure a credit card, or even something seemingly innocuous like signing up for a store discount card. Indeed, we click “I agree” to online contracts regularly when we secure a new email address or upload more software.
The question is do we read all of these documents we sign or do we, to paraphrase comedian Eddie Izzard’s bit on online contracts, consistently lie when we click or sign something indicating we have read it?
Not reading contracts can have enormous implications, virtually all negative. As a signer to a contract, you have the obligation to comply with its terms. Failing to read it means you do not necessarily know your obligations under the contract, which means you open yourself up to failing to comply with the contract’s terms simply out of ignorance. Indeed, you must remember that the other party to the contract has remedies and/or actions it can take due to your failing to comply with the contract’s terms, and he very often is more than willing to pursue them against you.
One of the reasons I hear most frequently for not reading a contract is that the other party “told me what it said.” I am here to tell you: don’t that their word for it, read it yourself! Don’t take this to mean that the other party is somehow acting slyly or unlawfully, it just may mean that he is telling you what he thinks it says or thinks is important. Indeed, he may be getting it wrong! Something to keep in mind is that many contracts specifically state that only its terms apply, therefore any discussion or “understanding” you may have had when you signed the contract will not be considered when you attempt to enforce it in court.
Even though it seems like a pain, or a burden, or just not worth it, at the time, please take the time to read everything thoroughly before you sign. You will be far better off for it as the risks are far too great not to do so! Don’t take anyone’s word for what a contract says; read it!