A Duty to Read? Legal Translators to the Rescue
We’re blogged about the need for professional legal translators and interpreters for contract translation services. As a large or small firm attorney, you most likely have had a client or two for whom English is not their first language. That situation can occur in either a corporate transaction or litigation setting and, regardless of the circumstances, you need to make sure that you protect your client as best you can.
When it comes to a client who is not proficient in the English language, his or her inability to read English typically does not remove the “duty to read” that is implicit in any contract. It is, therefore, instructive to get a quick refresher on the contract concept of the “duty to read” to make sure that you avoid common legal pitfalls.
This article will briefly discuss the concept of the “duty to read,” and then demonstrate why having a professional, reliable legal translator on call, like the specialized legal interpreters and translators at All Language Alliance, Inc., is invaluable. It ensures that you have properly accounted for the “duty to read” when creating a contract, or litigating over one.
What Does the “Duty to Read” Mean?
The “duty to read” means that courts will generally presume that a person who signs a contract has read that contract. Sounds simple, right? Well, like many things in the law, the “duty to read” is a commonsense principle that can have many complicated permutations when applied to specific real-life fact patterns, as we discuss below.
At its most basic level, the “duty to read” is fundamental because it underlies the essential enforceability of a contract. As you know from your own practice – and from life in general – people often make promises and agreements that, as circumstances change, they wish they could break. Invariably, using whatever rationale they can muster, contracting parties often claim that they did not read, or could not understand, the contract at issue.
The argument that a person did not fully understand a contract is typically a difficult one to win in court. Courts realize that allowing people to regularly undermine a written agreement after it has been executed would weaken the efficacy of contracts in general, which are valuable tools in our society. Accordingly, a “duty to read” is placed upon all contracting parties to ensure that contracts are not easily voided based on a later claim of not knowing the agreement’s terms.
Of course, there are contract defenses, proven with sufficient evidence, that may override the “duty to read.” For example, a court may void a contract if one contracting party procured another’s signature without making the full agreement available, or committed some other type fraud. Yet, overall, the simple claim of not having read a contract will normally not be a winning claim in court because of the “duty to read.”
Examples of Cases Involving the Duty to Read
There are many examples in which the “duty to read” has defeated a contracting party’s attempt to void a contract. In Walker v. MDM Services Corp., a Western District of Kentucky case, a former employee sued her former employer, claiming sexual harassment. The employer responded by stating that the employee is bound by the work contract she signed that mandates that she arbitrate her claim. The employee argued that she did not remember signing the contract and was not aware that work-related claims must be arbitrated. The court ultimately held that the employee is assumed to have read the contract at the time of execution and could not void it by arguing that she failed to read it.
Even in a case in which a party alleged that pages of the contract were missing at the time of execution, the court found that the “duty to read” still applies. The court in Lawson v. ADT Security Services, Inc., a Middle District of Georgia case, held that the duty extends to a contract with missing pages when the contract refers to those missing pages. The existence of a contracting party’s signature demonstrates that the signing party read and understood the contract, missing pages and all.
What About a Non-English Speaker’s Inability to Understand a Contract?
The “duty to read” analysis does not change when dealing with a non-English speaker. The onus is on the contracting party who may have difficulty with the language of a contract to figure out what the agreement says before signing it. Stated differently, a person who allegedly fails to understand a contract – yet, signs it nevertheless – is bound by its terms.
Indeed, in Soto v. State Indus. Prod., Inc., (a First Circuit Court of Appeals case), the court expressly found that a signatory’s inability to read, write, speak, or understand the English language has no impact on the contract’s enforceability. Thus, a person who signs an agreement without understanding its terms is negligent in failing to learn its contents.
How Can a Legal Translation Service Help?
A legal translation service not only helps with the “duty to read” presumption, it fixes it entirely. If you have a seasoned legal translator available to help you any time you have a non-English speaking client, then you have the resources to make sure that your client will understand a contract by having it translated for them. Further, if you are at the litigation stage, it is highly likely that a client who has difficulty with English will understand, and be able to make informed decisions, about the lawsuit with the help of an experienced legal translator or interpreter.
For help with the translation of contracts, documents, and other legal materials, you need look no further than All Language Alliance, Inc. at 303-470-9555. Our legal translators and interpreters for lawyers provide the reliable service you need to get accurate, professional translations done right the first time. Call us today to reserve an Oromo interpreter, a Tigrinya interpreter, a Mandarin interpreter, a Bengali interpreter, a Russian interpreter, an Amharic interpreter, a Korean interpreter, a Cantonese interpreter, a Somali interpreter, a Spanish interpreter, or any other language interpreter to comply with the contract law’s “duty to read a contract” provision.
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