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In medical establishments such as doctors' offices or blood draw facilities I have been presented with a digital signature pad and told to sign one or more times. Usually the person handing it to me will give an extremely vague notional explanation of what it is that I am signing. I do not get to see the document nor am I given a copy. For all I know, I could be signing up for Colombia House. While I always go along with this, a voice in my head keeps telling me that there's something wrong with this setup.

Are these signatures really legally binding? If I was shown one of these documents under oath, I could honestly say I had no knowledge of what the content was. Can I have 'had the intention' to sign a document without ever seeing it? I only signed a blank screen with limited or no other context. Should I be refusing to sign? Even if they show me something, how do I know that's what my signature is being applied to?

For reference here's a picture of the kind of device I am talking about:

enter image description here

Main question: at a high-level, what are the legal implications of a 'free-floating' digital signature?

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    These often say "I acknowledge having received, read, understood, and agreed to this organization's Privacy Policy" or other policies. I've made a habit of actually asking for a copy of those documents, which leads to almost universal annoyance at the inconvenience that someone asked at all. Frequently, they can't even find a copy of the document. At that point, some places' employees just say "it's on the website" even when it actually isn't. (Someone will answer soon about contracts of adhesion.)
    – WBT
    Sep 29 '21 at 17:00
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    @WBT It's pretty ironic that the thing that they don't offer up for you to read is often about how you have supposedly read something. It just seems like completely lunacy to me. I mean, no one reads the EULA but at least you are given an opportunity to do so.
    – JimmyJames
    Sep 29 '21 at 21:02
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    This seems like a side effect of an over-liitigious system. In the UK I have never been asked to sign anything for a blood sample. The mere fact that I actually turned up for the appointment is presumably sufficient declaration of "intent". OTOH I have always been asked to sign for surgery done under global anesthetic, and the medical staff always explained exactly what the procedure and any risks were before requesting a signature.
    – alephzero
    Sep 30 '21 at 19:12
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    But in UK hospitals the medical staff always ask for verbal permission to do anything, even as trivial as taking one's temperature. (Well, I suppose the temperature probe might explode while it was in my ear, but I don't think that is a likely possibility!)
    – alephzero
    Sep 30 '21 at 19:14
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    @alephzero It's an interesting point given that law in the US is rooted in English common law. The difference might be related to the patchwork system of US healthcare. Likely the signature was related to authorizing the release of my data to my doctor and/or insurer.
    – JimmyJames
    Sep 30 '21 at 20:01
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You are entitled to at least see, and probably get a copy of, any document you sign. If you insist, they will have to show you or give you a copy. It may well be that they are supposed to give you a copy even if you do not ask. But if you are going to insist, allow a bit of extra time at such appointments.

If they describe the document, even in rather general terms, your signature is probably binding, unless they have significantly misrepresented the document. If they tell you it is consent to be treated and it is actually an agreement to purchase a timeshare, that would be fraud and the document would not be valid, but that would be very unlikely. There might be some provision that you do not like, but such agreements are usually fairly standard, and also usually not very negotiable if you want service at that office. Still, it is better practice to at least look over and get a copy of any document you agree to.

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    I was thinking of a nightmare scenario where I go in for a blood draw and get infected with something because the phlebotomist used a dirty needle. Then I found out I signed a document that released the company from liability in that situation. I doubt that would be a valid legal contract for a medical facility in NYS but something along those lines would be concerning.
    – JimmyJames
    Sep 29 '21 at 19:19
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    Am I correct to think that, in general, if there is a provision in one of these documents that as relevant in court, my acceptance of that provision is likely something I could challenge in court unless they can demonstrate that I was informed of it? Along the same lines, if they don't tell me anything substantial about what I am signing, can my acceptance of whatever it states be challenged?
    – JimmyJames
    Sep 29 '21 at 20:59
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    @JimmyJames In your "nightmare scenario" I doubt a waiver would be valid even if you read every word of the document, signed it in ink, and had it notarized. Gross negligence generally cannot be waived. As to your more general question, anything can be challenged, but the success I am not so sure of. If the provisions were routine and reasonable, they might be treated as binding. Sep 29 '21 at 21:05
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    Do you know of any particular legal authority supporting this? I'm not particularly familiar with contract law, but is there considered to be a meeting of the minds regarding a document that one party was not even shown before being asked to sign it?
    – Ryan M
    Sep 30 '21 at 2:57
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    @Ryan M I would need to do some looking, I have no clear authority at hand, and i could well be incorrect. When the document is in fact routine, and the signer understood the general purport, quite possibly there was a meeting of the minds. But I am not at all sure how a court would rule if presented with this fact pattern and a serious dispute over the document. Sep 30 '21 at 3:05
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Are these signatures legally binding?

Yes

At law, if you sign a document, you assert that you understand it and agree to be bound by it - it doesn't matter if you have read it.

Now, everyone knows that most of us sign many documents without informing ourselves fully of the consequences. Judges both know this and, no doubt, do this themselves. However, this is not an excuse for a practical and pragmatic reason - if we could disclaim our signature just because we claimed later that "I didn't read it", then signatures would become worthless as evidence.

While you have to have the opportunity of reviewing the document (and I'm sure they'll show it to you if you ask), you don't have to review it. But, if you don't, that's on you.

If I was shown one of these documents under oath, I could honestly say I had no knowledge of what the content was. Can I have 'had the intention' [sic] to sign a document without ever seeing it?

I don't understand how you claim that you lacked the intention to sign something that you signed. Are you claiming that your writing hand became possessed by a ghost or a demon and signed the document itself? Does your hand sign documents while you are asleep?

You consciously picked up a pen and signed the document - therefore, you intended to do so. Provided that you were not coerced, drunk, drug-affected or under some other legal incapacity, your intention was clear. And no, the fact that it takes time to read and understand the document and we are all time poor is not coercion.

I only signed a blank screen with limited or no other context. Should I be refusing to sign?

I can't give you legal advice.

You need to do your cost-benefit analysis. Are the costs of taking the time to read the document, either thoroughly or by skimming, more or less than the risks of agreeing to an unknown liability?

If you are buying a house, a car or a mortgage, almost certainly yes. These are big, long-term commitments that will substantially impact your finances for many years.

If you are signing up for a pay-by-month phone or internet plan, maybe not. The commitment is small and easy to get out of, the terms between providers will be very similar and there is a fair amount of consumer protection and the risks are correspondingly low.

If you are signing a medical consent form? Well, in most of the world this would fall into the mobile phone plan category. In the United States, it's probably more of the mortgage category because involuntary servitude appears to be legal there for prisoners and people who owe money for medical bills [that's a joke - just not the funny type of joke].

Even if they show me something, how do I know that's what my signature is being applied to?

Because they told you it was. Legally, that's called a representation and one of the grounds for voiding a contract is if one of the parties made a material misrepresentation about it.

Edit to address comments

A number of commenters have raised issues about proving that the document purported to be signed was the document that was actually signed, either in general or in the particular circumstances. Those are irrelevant to the question!

On the facts as stated: I signed a document I didn't read, am I bound by it? The answer is an unequivocal and emphatic: Yes.

The facts may be disputed, and the method used may impose some difficulty on proving the facts if they are disputed, but that is the question: If I can prove I didn't sign the document, am I bound by it? That also has an unequivocal and emphatic answer: No. And the answer is the same even if you did read it. But it's a totally different question.

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    My knowledge of law is very limited, so this comes from a point of logic: in the specific case described, the OP isn't signing a document. They're signing a blank screen (at least in the case of most digital signature pads I've seen), or one with at most a line of text on it, which is changeable anyway. Perhaps that one-line statement could be confirmation that that they've read a different document - would that be enough?
    – Chris H
    Sep 30 '21 at 10:30
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    "I don't understand how you claim that you lacked the intention to sign something that you signed. Are you claiming that your writing hand became possessed by a ghost or a demon and signed the document itself? Does your hand sign documents while you are asleep?" If I don't know what the document contains, how can I intend to agree to it? I have been handed a pad and asked to sign it. No more, no less. If I ask for someone's autograph and then paste it to a document, why would that be any less binding than my signature attached to nothing?
    – JimmyJames
    Sep 30 '21 at 14:48
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    @ChrisH In my experience, there is no single line of text on the pad and no way to see what is on the screen that the person asking me to sign it is looking at. Unless I am going to break through the glass and climb through the little window.
    – JimmyJames
    Sep 30 '21 at 15:03
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    Hypothetically, let's say I hand you a blank piece of paper with a little sticker that says 'sign here'. You say, "why?", and I say "don't worry about it, just standard stuff". You sign (for the sake of argument) and then I take the paper and run it through my printer and add a bunch of contract details. Would you say then that you intended to agree to whatever I printed on the contract? Would it hold up in court if I later sued you for breaking a contract of which you had no knowledge?
    – JimmyJames
    Sep 30 '21 at 16:18
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    @JimmyJames: at least in France - yes. We have the concept of signing "in white" (blanc-seign = signing off a space that has no text). You are bound to what someone will put in there (there used to be limitations about losing money but they are not enforced anymore)
    – WoJ
    Sep 30 '21 at 19:14

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