Friday, October 17, 2008

The Importance Of The Written Word

It's axiomatic that a verbal agreement is as good as the paper on which it's written. Many of you have probably heard the adage "get it in writing." Well, unfortunately, many of you are not heeding that sage advice. I am confronted routinely with situations where construction work is performed on nothing more than a handshake. All goes well until the proverbial excrement hits the fan. Then, the parties align on opposing sides disputing such things as payment amounts, waivers of claims, etc., since each party may have a different recollection of the original understanding. In such situations, typically there is a paucity of documentary evidence. It gets messy and very, very expensive to sort it all out, if at all. Business relationships and friendships are destroyed and, in the end, nobody wins really.

The point here is that absent a written contract, disputes usually come down to a matter of credibility; essentially, it devolves into a "he said, she said" scenario. I don't think anyone should feel comfortable in such a situation. With a written agreement, the rights, obligations and remedies of the parties are (or at least should be) stated clearly. Granted, there is a great deal of litigation involving the interpretation of written agreements, but at least there's something to fight over. In cases where no writing exists, it seems many times as if those involved are competing for an Academy Award ... "I'm ready for my close up, Your Honor."

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