What about contracts printed in small type on the back of forms and airline tickets?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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You’ve seen the small print on the back of a sales receipt with the list of rules for refunds. In fact, many of these small print contracts will actually state that by purchasing that item, you are agreeing to the store’s terms of sale. Many courts have been allowing these so called “contracts of adhesion” or “take it or leave it” to be binding.

Typically, courts will uphold provisions such as terms of sale, arbitration clauses, and terms of refund or cancellation of sale. These provisions are considered reasonable and more instructional in nature than actually binding. For instance, sales receipts may state that the store will not return an item without a receipt. This is a retailer’s right and something that they did not even have to tell you. Instead, they chose to place it on the back of the receipt, in small print, to encourage you to keep your receipt in case the purchase is defective.

The court will consider whether the small print was manifestly unfair or unreasonable when determining whether it was valid. For instance, if a car dealer places small print in a contract stating that you waive your right for a claim under the Lemon Laws, this would be considered manifestly unfair, as it is removing a protection placed in the law for consumers. In addition, contracts that violate a law or that are against public policy are also considered invalid. For example, if your optometrist’s contract states some added charges that will be sent to your insurance company that are not valid, this is a violation of law known as insurance fraud, and it will not be considered valid. As a general rule, if a contract contains any fishy provisions, whether in small print or regular print, it is best to consult with an attorney to avoid future problems with that vendor. 

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