What to look out for when signing a contract

What to know about contracts

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - You sign contracts with many things in life and might not be reading every part of it, but here is what you need to know about liability waivers before accepting your next contract.

A family lost most of their possessions when moving company, Pack Rat, accidentally auctioned off their storage unit. NBC12′s Diane Walker got involved, and Pack Rat agreed to pay the family an undisclosed amount. But, written in that contract is a waiver releasing Pack Rat from liability for negligence.

Is it enforceable in Virginia? How strong this document is and is there any wiggle room in it for people who sign it? Consumer Rights Attorney John Gayle, with Consumer Law Group looked it over to see if it would stand up in a Virginia court.

Liability waivers protect the company providing the service, and Pack Rat spells it all out in its Rental Agreement - Terms and Conditions. Gayle says the seven pages long contract is designed to make your eyes glaze over. He says it’s like no one will read it. Moving past appearance, something else catches Gayle’s attention.

“I don’t see a signature. Maybe it was electronically signed. The way we determine if something is agreed to is if it’s signed," Gayle said.

Yana Griffin says her husband never signed any document electronically or otherwise.

“You sign up on the phone, you pay the money and then you get the contracts. They’ve already drafted your account. You think everything is fine,” Griffin said.

NBC12′s Diane Walker emailed Pack Rat corporate looking for clarity about the signature question, and whether the Griffins got the contract after the money exchange and if that’s company protocol. The company has yet to respond.

Gayle says the Griffins should have read the contract and called Pack Rat about provisions they had problems with.

“You don’t sign the part of the contract that says ‘if we’re negligent and destroy your stuff we’re not liable.’ You would negotiate with those people. These nice people lost a lot of personal items but it was not personal injury, so my thinking is this company may have been successful in getting a jury or a judge saying you waived your right when you signed this contract,” Gayle said.

Pack Rat mixed up the numbers on the storage unit and a fork lift driver pulled the wrong container for sale. Pack Rat Manager Scott at the Laburnum Avenue location said the system in place works and it was just a “fluke.” The contract releases Pack Rat from all responsibility due to negligence unless the action was criminal.

Had the family suffered personal injury, they would be covered. Gayle points to paragraph eight in the contract which states, “'Our agents will not be responsible for any damages, expense damages or injury.' They even bring up injury and you release us from any liability of acts or omission or negligence of our agents unless the loss is directly caused by fraud or willful violation of the law. My reading of this is a court could enforce that waiver clause.”

Griffin says everyone should be checking on their items.

"If you have your stuff in the Richmond facility, I suggest you call right now and tell them you need to come check on your stuff,” Griffin said.

Gayle says it is important to read every word of a contract before signing or accepting it, and know that you can negotiate any parts that you don’t feel good about.

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