“Always read what you’re signing”: it seems like common sense advice. However, when you are in a rush or a document is tediously long, it can be easy to be compelled to skim. As strong as the urge may be in the moment, remember to slow down and take the time to read what you’re signing. In a recent estate case involving Gina Bilotti, a woman purchasing a house, and Howard Altman, who owns the inspection company hired to inspect the house, Bilotti learned the importance of reading what you are signing.
In 2017, Bilotti hired Altman and his company to inspect the house she was looking to buy. At the time, Bilotti was unable to attend the inspection due to her demanding job and travel plans. She was only able to arrive at the house as Altman was preparing to leave. Unfortunately, Bilotti hadn’t received a copy of the agreement she was to sign prior to the inspection. Although Bilotti hadn’t read the contract, and because Altman had another appointment to get to, Bilotti hastily signed the contract without reviewing it. As she was also not wearing her reading glasses, she was unable to see much of the contract.
Bilotti didn’t move into the house for another year after purchasing it. Upon moving in, she noticed various problems that the inspection company had failed to mention in their report. These damages were extremely costly, adding up to $200,000. In response to this, Bilotti attempted to sue Altman and his company for negligence, among a number of other accusations. In response, Altman moved to compel arbitration pursuant to the agreement Bilotti signed.
By signing the arbitration provision, Bilotti agreed not to sue Altman and his company in a court of law. Instead, any disputes were to be settled in arbitration. Bilotti asserted she was not aware of this when she signed the contract, though she later admitted that the statement was large and bold enough to read without her reading glasses. If she had taken more time to read the contract, or even contacted an attorney in an attempt to extend her time with the contract, this wouldn’t have been an issue.
The Court agreed that the arbitration provision was fair, despite Bilotti’s argument that it was unjust. The jury decided that Bilotti was a woman of above-average intelligence and ability, and although she lacked experience in real estate matters, the language of the contract was clear enough that she would have understood if she had taken the time to read it. This decision was further supported by the fact that the contract included a statement that required clients to agree they had a fair amount of time to review the contract before the inspection. Again, something Bilotti failed to read.
So, let this case serve as a reminder to everyone to always read what you’re signing. If you do not want to read the contract yourself, please consider having an attorney review it for you in advance of signing. Even if it seems inconvenient or like a chore at the time, it can save you a lot of time, money, and frustration in the future.