Can You Read?

Then start doing it and stop just signing everything people put in front of you. Yeah, I know those are long contracts and sometimes they have big words but once you sign that contract, you are obligated to what the contract says. Courts often times look to the "four corners" of the document.

In Regions Bank v. Schmauch, 354 S.C. 648, 663-664 (S.C. Ct. App. 2003), the court set forth numerous cases illustrating the same point:

  • A person who signs a contract or other written document cannot avoid the effect of the document by claiming he did not read it. Sims v. Tyler, 276 S.C. 640, 643, 281 S.E.2d 229, 230 (1981); Evans v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co., 269 S.C. 584, 587, 239 S.E.2d 76, 77 (1977).
  • A person signing a document is responsible for reading the document and making sure of its contents. Every contracting party owes a duty to the other party to the contract and to the public to learn the contents of a document before he signs it. Burwell v. South Carolina Nat'l Bank, 288 S.C. 34, 39, 340 S.E.2d 786, 789 (1986); Sanders v. Allis Chalmers Mfg. Co., 237 S.C. 133, 139-40, 115 S.E.2d 793, 796 (1960); Stanley Smith & Sons v. D.M.R. Inc., 307 S.C. 413, 417, 415 S.E.2d 428, 430 (Ct. App. 1992).
  • One who signs a written instrument has the duty to exercise reasonable care to protect himself. Maw v. McAlister, 252 S.C. 280, 285, 166 S.E.2d 203, 205 (1969);
  • "The law does not impose a duty on the bank to explain to an individual what he could learn from simply reading the document." Citizens & S. Nat'l Bank of South Carolina v. Lanford, 313 S.C. 540, 545, 443 S.E.2d 549, 551 (1994).

There are exceptions and unique instances that could vary but the general rule is: read before you sign. People enter into contracts every day over real estate, personal property, rental agreements/terms, employment, insurance settlements, etc. If you don't understand what you are signing ask someone to help you better understand it.

Real World Examples:

  1. Real Estate Foreclosures- You never asked anyone what an ARM was? It sounded great for the moment but all of the sudden your payments tripled. That's not fair! Why the hell not! You agreed to it in a contract you probably signed 10 times. Why is it the bank's fault because you didn't read the fine print?
  2. Automobile Insurance- You checked the box that said you did not want the optional UIM insurance. Then you get injured by someone with minimum coverage that has no personal assets.  What can you do? Well the insurance company never explained what UIM was. Did you ask them? Or were you in a hurry and just wanted the cheapest coverage?  Oh, never mind, it doesn't matter you already signed the contract.
  3. Car Loans- You were in a bind and you were way behind and you were willing to make a deal, ...... and if you win you'll get this shiny car made of steel, .....but if you lose the devil gets your soul. So you agreed to a $15,000.00 loan for that 98 Mercury van with 100,000 + miles. They paid you $2,500.00 up front in cash and you financed the rest at 35% interest over the next five years. You get in a wreck the next week and the at fault insurance company tells you the car is worth $2,500.00. What about that loan you agreed to? Will you still have to pay it? Yes sir, indeed. You know why? You signed a contract.

DISCLAIMER: This is not legal advice merely common sense illustrated by legal opinions and case law.  We have not entered into a attorney client relationship. Feel free to consult with an attorney about any contract you do not understand. 

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