News and Events

Signing documents without reading them or taking legal advice

  • Posted

More often than not when buying a product or paying for a service we will be asked to enter into a contract of one sort or another or sign Terms and Conditions which then form part of a Contract. The reality is people enter into contracts quite often several times a day. For example, you will frequently have an App on your mobile phone or download some piece of new software for your computer which invariably will come with Terms and Conditions that you have to agree to before proceeding.

The terms of an App or a website can change all the time however generally very few of us ever pause to read the T&C’s, we just click to say that we have read them so we can obtain the information being offered. Similarly, we may buy a washing machine or a sofa or a car and these often come with terms and conditions in relation to warranties. Again most people simply accept these without paying any real attention to the content of those Terms and Conditions or the consequences of proceeding.

Unfortunately all of this means that people have rather become blasé about Terms and Conditions and signing them. Proceeding in this way has resulted in an increase in adverse legal situations where people should have read what they were presented with; but did not.

A classic example of this comes with Timeshare contracts. We regularly speak to people who have signed up to a Timeshare in Spain or Portugal for example but didn’t read the documentation in any detail and therefore didn’t really understand what they were signing up for.

As a result they find out after signing contracts, they are now required to pay an ever increasing maintenance fee for their resort every year. In the vast majority of these cases clients inform us that they didn’t read the paperwork before signing it and simply believed the salesman when they were told everything was just standard documentation. It is of course then sometimes difficult to raise an argument that an individual did not know what they were agreeing to if they have signed the documentation personally, documentation which clearly states the terms being signed up to. Timeshare salesmen in particular are aware of this and very often will do everything they can to rush you, distract you or play down the importance of the documentation so that you don’t read through everything before signing.

Fortunately in the case of Timeshare contracts, very often the contracts themselves fall foul of Spanish or Portuguese consumer legislation and so we are able to have the contracts cancelled and the legal obligations of the clients terminated.

Another recent example we have dealt with involved a client who had signed documents to open a bank account in Spain. These documents were in Spanish and as a result the clients did not fully understand them or the financial consequences of signing them. The bank in question did not go through the documentation with the client - as they should have - but equally the client simply signed them. The clients were then shocked to learn the bank had levied charges on their specific account which were much higher than they expected. In this case we were able to prove the failings of the bank to correctly inform the clients of the fee structures on the accounts in question. And after protracted exchanges with the bank the excessive fees charged to the clients were eventually reimbursed.

It is very tempting to ignore Terms and Conditions in this modern world where you are presented with so many of them. However, doing this can cause problems if the Terms and Conditions are not what you are expecting. Never assume that Terms and Conditions will be OK. Take a moment to read through them. If you can’t read them because they are in a language that you don’t understand then obtain a translation or insist upon somebody explaining them to you. If you still don’t understand, then seek legal advice, as by just signing without reading or understanding the consequences of what you are signing this could result in potential financial and/or legal problems and will probably negate any possibility of you complaining at a later date that the Terms are not what you expected.

If you have an international legal issue or contract that you need assistance with then you can contact our legal team

Disclaimer – International legal issues are a complex area of law and this information is no substitute for independent legal advice on an individual basis taking into consideration your personal circumstances and legal requirements. This information is provided to provide general information only and was correct at the time of publishing. The legal position in relation to international transactions can change frequently and this page may not have been updated following any changes in the law. You should therefore not rely on this information and should seek legal advice in relation to your personal circumstances.