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Rachel Kosmal McCart is a lifelong horsewoman and the founder of Equine Legal Solutions, PC, an equine law firm based in the Portland, Oregon area. Rachel is a member of the New York, California, Oregon and Washington State bars and is admitted to practice before the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon and the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Rachel currently competes in three-day eventing.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Signatures on Equine Contracts

At Equine Legal Solutions, we receive a lot of contract questions from our forms customers. Here's one we received today: "How do I "sign" this Sale document and then email it to the buyer, then have them "sign" it and email it back? What about for international sales?"

To answer those questions, it's helpful to first examine the purpose of a signature and how equine contract law issues arise relating to signatures. Primarily, the signature on a contract serves to show that the person signing agreed to the terms in the contract. Signatures are generally disputed only when there is a question about whether the parties had an agreement, or if they did have an agreement, what its terms were.

In our equine law practice, we receive a lot of questions about whether signatures on horse related contracts should be notarized to "make them legal." A notary's job is to verify that the person signing is the person that they say they are, but notarization is certainly not required to make a contract legally enforceable. Although a signature's authenticity can be disputed - e.g., "That's not my signature," it doesn't happen very often in the horse industry. When authenticity does arise as an issue in equine contracts, the signature in question is almost always genuine and can easily be shown to be so by a handwriting expert.

In the horse industry, when the signature on an equine contract becomes an issue, it is typically in the context of a contract having been discussed and/or written, but not signed. Occasionally, the contract was actually signed, but the party who wants to enforce the contract can't find the signature page. To enforce a written contract, the person who wants to enforce it typically must have the signature of the person against whom he wants to enforce it. For example, if you sign a purchase agreement for a horse but the seller never signs it, you may not be able to compel the seller to sell you the horse.

More rarely, the defendant in a legal case involving an equine contract might admit to having signed a contract, but they don't admit to having signed the contract in question, claiming that the terms are different than the contract they signed. For example, the signature page might have been tacked onto a totally unrelated contract. In this case, the correspondence back and forth between the parties can be used to show what document the parties actually signed.

In this age of interstate and international transactions, the parties are often not in the same room and therefore cannot sign the same piece of paper. Contracts signed in counterparts (e.g., each party signs a different copy of the same signature page) are perfectly acceptable.

Because timing is frequently critical in closing an equine transaction, the parties may not want to wait to receive a signature page in the mail. Fortunately, there are many options for transmitting signatures. Overnight delivery services such as Federal Express can transmit signature pages in less than 24 hours. Even faster, the contracting parties can sign the signature page, then scan that signature page and email the scanned copy to the other parties. Or, they can sign the signature page and fax it to the other parties. Persons without access to a scanner or fax machine at their home can locate a nearby Kinko's, Office Max, Staples, or other store offering office services.

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