Be careful what you sign for...

We sign things all the time. Mostly credit card receipts, but if you have ever bought a car, a home, or signed for a package, you are also representing to the contracting world that, by signing the document, you accept the consequences therein.


For most things, this is fine. Sign your electronic name at the grocery store, sign for your fragile antique cuckoo clock you ordered off ebay. However, if you sign for something as part of your job, or in a business capacity, you need to be much more careful.

Scenario #1:

You are a manager for Big Box Store, who sell mature pokemon to the public. You negotiate a great contract with your supplier of pokemon eggs, Fantasy Farms, in part by not telling them who the eggs were for. You sign the contract only with YOUR NAME. Turns out, people stop caring about pokemon, and Big Box Store stops paying on the contract.

Fantasy Farms sues you for the contract. Who wins?

Weren't you just doing your job? Well, sorta. Texas courts look at a few things.

Who signed the contract? Well, you did. Not the company. You should have signed it, YOUR NAME, manager, Big Box Store. That would have protected you. But you wanted a deal, so you didn't.

Next, did you disclose you were an agent or officer of the company? No, obviously. Strike against you.

If I'm the judge, I'm probably finding that you are stuck paying the contract.

Scenario #2:

You and a buddy are starting your medical practice together. You set up your company (doctor's can have special "professional association" entities, think an LLC just for doctors) and you sign a lease. However, when you sign the lease, you signed it as "Doctor A and Doctor B."   Business dries up and you want to move out. You do, the landlord sues you individually for the remainder of the lease. Can they pierce your corporate entity?

Depends. Again, was it obvious you were signing for the company? Was that disclosed? Did the lease include specific provisions to hold you accountable? (READ YOUR LEASE.) Are your books and records in order, showing you observed the corporate formalities? This scenario is very avoidable if you are careful when you sign the contract. To see what not to do, read this case.

Rule:

The basic rule is if you sign for something as your name, its on you. If you are the president, manager, or back room clerk for Big Box store, sign YOUR NAME, CLERK, BIG BOX STORE. Else, its on you. The exceptions come if you disclosed who you work for, it was obvious, and if you are the owner/officer of a company, as long as you weren't trying to perpetuate fraud, you should be ok too. Key is disclosure.

This same logic applies for owners of a company, partners in a partnership, members in an LLC, etc. Don't give away your liability protection by signing something without your representative capacity, else your "corporate veil" could be pierced.

Take away:

We all wear many different hats. Individual, parent, spouse, mother, son, employee, owner, etc. Whatever hat you are wearing on any given transaction, make sure you disclose that hat, or you could get stuck wearing a hat you didn't intend.


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