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Are You Reading the Fine Print? FindLaw Survey Says Americans Pay Attention Before Signing Contracts


MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., August 14, 2003 – Americans pay close attention before signing on the dotted line, says a new survey by FindLaw, the leading legal Web site.

How much attention do we pay? According to the FindLaw survey, the percentage of Americans who say they read every word or at least enough to understand contracts before signing on the dotted line is:

    85%     Buying or selling a home
    82%     Employment contracts
    77%     Credit card agreements
    70%     Housing rental agreements
    67%     Sports and recreation liability waivers
    63%     Rental car agreements

"It really pays to make sure you understand everything before you sign," says Professor Rick Lord, who teaches contract law at Campbell University School of Law in North Carolina. "Many times, for example in mortgage agreements or employment contracts, you can negotiate better terms, such as avoiding prepayment penalties or getting better perks."

On the other hand, failing to read a contract can be costly in terms of penalties, liabilities or inability to recover damages. Less than one quarter of people said that they only glance at the wording or completely ignore these contracts before signing them. People were mostly likely to not pay attention to sports and recreation liability waivers (18 percent), rental car agreements (16 percent) and credit card agreements (15 percent).

"If you fail to read a contract thoroughly, you do so at your own hazard," says Lord. "Generally, if you sign a contract, you're bound by it whether you read it completely or not. People should read every agreement thoroughly before they sign it."

Additional information on contract law and how to find an attorney in your area to help draft or review contracts can be found on helpful Web sites such as

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NOTE TO EDITORS: The national survey used a representative sample of 1,000 adults nationwide, with a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, and was conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs.

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