Reading contracts hinders companies from exploiting their clients.

Most of us ignore the fine print. But one woman who didn't earned herself $10,000. Others have found themselves on the losing end of a contract they didn't bother to read. Sofie Delauw/Getty Images/Cultura RF

Recently, a woman in Georgia obtained $10,000 for reading a contract for travelling insurance. The woman in question found a clause that entitled people who read it and emailed the company providing the insurance would be paid $10,000. This contrasts with companies who slip indentured servitude or soul purchase clauses in their contracts.

Apparently, disregard for contracts is more common among college age students, while 44-54 year-olds tend to skim or read contracts more often. This worrying statistic is further exacerbated by the fact that although these agreements dictate permissible and prohibited actions for both the client and vendor, fewer than 1 in 10000 people decide to read the fine print and often only do so for short periods of time. If companies wished to act in predatory manners by inserting predatory clauses that remain unread in their contract, they could. As the users implicitly agreed to those clauses upon affirming their signature to the contracts, users would be unable to seek legal recourse for such predations.

The court system assumes that users have read all agreements they sign and implicitly agree to all clauses in the contract, and thus will be unlikely to recompense users, as the user voluntarily assumed the risks upon signing the contract. This will stop users from preventing information from being sold or companies raising interest rates which could prove disastrous to personal finances.

An especially worrying aspect is that many services such as bouncy-houses, canoeing companies and websites retain such contracts in an attempt to ensure that all members of the activity are aware of the strictures, despite 91 percent of people merely signing such agreements without realizing what they are signing, a Deloitte study shows.

These financial incentives should be unnecessary. People should read what they sign merely to ensure that the vendor remains within the boundaries of the services provided and not read them for the sole purpose of avoiding soul purchases or monetary profit. A contract is a legal document binding both parties to the provisions stated therein. It is incumbent on adults of sound mind and body to understand the regulations, which they have of their own volition agreed to follow. There are sufficient financial and privacy concerns that arise from credit card companies stating that the bank determines the interest rates and that the zero percent rates are provisional rates which can change at any time. Without reading the contract, it is difficult to make informed decisions about the wisdom of engaging in the services covered by the agreement. A failure to read contracts entered also imprisons the populace to the whims of companies and the class of people who actually read the contract.

Due to the cost of legal recourse in the United States, companies will make the contracts long to cover every possible scenario that could occur. For example, iTunes still maintains the anti-nuclear weapon clause from the 1990s and the age where the pentagon classified RSA as a weapon. This also enables companies to hide clauses in the long technical passages that tend to dissuade users from reading the contract. One way to shorten the agreements would be to restrict the scope of each agreements and mandate that all contracts refer to specific aspects and requiring the signing of each contract separately, although the Deloitte study also demonstrated that the more effort required to access a contract reduce the chances people reading the contract. This could be augmented by including else if statements directing the client to the relevant passages in the agreement. Another solution is to leave contingencies undecided until a scenario requiring a process for resolving such a scenario arises. This would allow for more flexibility in resolving conflicts, but could lead to disputes where both sides argue that the terms allowed for their interpretation as there were no terms covering the contingency addressed by the litigation. Another solution would be to create an auditor who would remove superfluous clauses in a contract. This would reduce the size and ensure that people read the contract due to the relevance of all sections to the reader.

Although companies would not engage in excessively egregious abuse of the lack of contract reading to prevent word of their actions being promulgated and their profit margins being reduced as people avoid business with them, the potential for abuse remains. It is always important to know your rights and obligations as a consumer and as a citizen for the Constitution is a contract of sorts. The best way of learning of those rights and obligations is to read the contract and discover them for yourself to avoid a reliance on external forces, except as they pertain to discovering definitions and how such clauses are enacted, which requires an attorney for proper advice.

There is an imperative for all to read contracts. It will prevent people from being manipulated through ignorance.


Jacob Ningen is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at jacob.ningen@uconn.edu.