A landowner has been obliged to buy a plot of land after his solicitor was judged to have signed the contract by including an automated email signature in correspondence. The case highlights the effect of electronic signatures in contract negotiations.
The case follows a dispute between two landowners over access to a boat landing on Lake Windermere in the Lake District. In a move to settle the dispute one of the landowners agreed to sell the other a small strip of land for £175,000.
The landowners’ solicitors discussed and agreed the terms of the transaction by email. When the buyer failed to complete the purchase, the dispute went to court. The buyer argued that the contract could not be enforced as it had not been signed as required by the Law of Property Act.
The seller claimed that the contract had been agreed and signed by David Tear, the buyer’s solicitor. They argued that the addition of Mr Tear’s automated email signature to an email, setting out the terms of the deal, counted as a legal signature.
The judge, His Honour Judge Pearce agreed, ruling that the addition of David Tear’s automated email signature showed that he had a clear intention to associate himself with and authenticate the agreement. He criticised the seller for trying to use a technical defect to renege upon a deal.
“This case shows just how careful professionals should be in discussing contract terms in emails, particularly where an automated email signature can be added,” said James Burgoyne of Brunel Professions. “Consideration should be given to including the words ‘subject to contract’ to correspondence,” he added.
Categorised in: General PI News
This post was written by James Burgoyne