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Newport, RI Admiralty & Maritime Lawyer Talks Maritime Contracts

Like a vessel's wake, a signature evidences your presence. In most commercial settings, a signature acts as an identifying mark as well as proof of consent to the terms of the document being signed. Still, a signature is so easily given that its power is often unappreciated giving rise to unexpected consequences.

Your signature carries legal weight. When you sign a document containing terms and conditions, the law will generally assume you understood and agreed to the document's contents. An after-the-fact assertion of having not read the fine print is about as helpful as an outgoing tide. While they're always exceptions, the courts take a very dim view of efforts to avoid a contract signed by an individual who later clambers that he or she didn't know what was being signed.

For instance, an arbitration panel held a vessel owner to the terms of a salvage contract finding it unreasonable that he had not appreciated what he was signing. And while the court's tend to give some special protection to seamen, an educated and experienced crewmember was not relieved of her obligations under an employment contract she voluntarily signed. Where businessmen signed a shipyard repair contract waiving certain claims against the yard, they were subsequently prevented from suing the yard because they had "read and signed the agreement without expressing any reservation."

Among other things, a hastily scrawled signature can bind you to terms and conditions which may extinguish your right to a jury trial, subject you to paying fees if you pursue litigation, and/or otherwise force you to resolve disputes in some faraway place you've never heard of much less visited. No matter the document, prior to gracing it with your signature, take the time to review its contents so as to understand the nature of its obligations. If you're not happy with one or more of the terms, try and negotiate an acceptable resolution. If the circumstances don't allow for you to rewrite its provisions, step into the hallway (or onto the deck) and call your admiralty attorney. Your admiralty attorney can likely recommend alternate language or an appropriate objection to accompany your signature.

There's a lot of sea spray that comes at you in life, and there's a tendency to sign things quickly so as to move onto the next issue. Whether ashore or at sea, a prudent mariner, however, understands the importance of a signature and that, unlike a vessel's wake, a signature doesn't disappear.

Underway and making way.

By John Fulweiler


Categories: General Maritime Law

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