Read Before You Sign

06/07/2016 15:03

Last week, we highlighted Ashok Lal’s ordeal of consuming Betadine skin solution (iodine) while undergoing treatment at a private hospital.

 By way of a deed of settlement, the hospital authorities waived all medical charges accrued by Mr Lal arising from his stay in the hospital. This was the only relief received by Mr Lal.

His nightmare wasn’t over yet as he and his wife felt misled by the hospital. The deed of settlement kept haunting them. Subsequently, they hired a lawyer and instituted civil proceedings in the High Court. The matter went for trial and unfortunately, the judgment was not in Lal’s favour.

The Ruling is historic for all Fijian consumers. It passes on a crucial message, which is about the importance of reading a contract before committing yourself to the terms and conditions to it.

The ruling stresses that, “when a person enters into an agreement, it is his right to read and understand its terms and conditions before signing it”.

Once the document was read over to Lal, he had the opportunity to ask for a copy of it. He should have read it before placing their signatures or sought time to consider the terms and conditions contained therein. He could have negotiated the terms and conditions. Lal also had a choice to refuse signing the agreement.

As highlighted in the Ruling, Lal’s wife showed that she had no interest in reading the document before it was signed. According to her, she read the copy given to her two days after its execution.

It was emphasized that when it comes to a contract between two parties, generally the party who makes the offer put down in writing the terms and conditions and makes the other party aware of them, so that the other party can decide whether he is agreeable to the terms or the terms proposed by the other party should be amended. This is how the minds of the parties meet.

In the instant case, the hospital authorities proposed certain terms and read them over to Lal who placed his signatures accepting them. His wife subscribed her signature as a witness.

Mr Lal through his lawyers made various claims. The prime one was that the said agreement was executed under duress and/or undue influence and is therefore, null and void. 

 Mr Lal’s wife asserted that a copy of the document was not given to her nor had she requested for a copy. She had agreed to the execution of the deed on the understanding that the hospital representative would compensate Lal for his pain and suffering. 

Lal further claimed that he was not provided with an independent legal adviser. The Ruling, however, mentions that, “providing a legal adviser is not the responsibility of the other party to the contract.” Lal could have obtained an independent legal advice if he wanted to.

Indeed, this Ruling is significant, as it spells out the responsibilities of the parties to a contract, which is “to read the document before signing it off” or don’t sign the document when you don’t know what’s in it.

Had Lal or his wife read through the deed of settlement, they may have opted not to sign it off given the terms and conditions in the deed.

The cost of not reading the document before signing is huge to Mr Lal in terms of pain and suffering, money and time.  He is worse off with a $9,000 bill to pay for the legal costs.

Consumers must read any agreement thoroughly, understand and sign only if they are content with the terms and conditions in such documents.