This section is from the book "The Law Of Contracts", by William Herbert Page. Also available from Amazon: Commercial Contracts: A Practical Guide to Deals, Contracts, Agreements and Promises.
If the party, who is mistaken as to the contents of the instrument, can not read at all,1 or can not read the language in which the instrument is written,2 or is practically blind,3 or he can not read without spectacles and is without his spectacles at the time,4 or is suffering intense physical pain,5 he is not bound by the contract if he signs it in mistake as to the contents of the contract; as where the instrument is misread.6 If a man of advanced years is unable to read without the use of eyeglasses and his eyeglasses have been broken, the fact that he signs an instrument of considerable length and in small type under the mistaken belief that it was a contract by which he agreed to sell goods for the owner upon a commission, whereas it was a contract of sale, renders such contract void.7
In some jurisdictions mistake as to the contents of the instrument does not avoid the contract, even though the party who suffers from such mistake is not able to read, as long as no unfair means have been used to prevent him from obtaining information as to the contents of the instrument.8 It is said that one who neither tries to read the contract nor have it read to him can not avoid the contract on the ground of his own illiteracy.9 If he can not read, it is said to be his duty to have the contract read to him.10 If a proper degree of care is used in securing a competent interpreter and the adversary party seems to understand the transaction, he can not avoid such transaction on the ground of mistake.11 If a passenger or shipper knows that a ticket contains a contract he is bound by its terms, although he is unable to read.12 The fact that the contract is executed in haste does not, in some jurisdictions, excuse mistake as to its contents.13 One who is able to read and write and has had experience in business is said to be bound by a contract which he signs without reading in order to enable the adversary party to catch a train.14 The fact that the purchaser is in a hurry to complete the transportation of milk to a creamery is not sufficient excuse for his failure to read the contract of sale.15 So where the party signing the contract is able to read, and there is no misrepresentation, undue influence, and the like, the fact that he was "worried in mind and did not read it" does not release him from liability thereon.16 The fact that a term of a contract is in small type does not excuse the negligence of a party in omitting to read it, if it is readily legible.17
14 Mercer v. Hickman-Ebbert Co. (Ky.), 105 S. W. 441.
15 Atlas Shoe Co. v. Bloom, 209 Mass. 563, 95 N. E. 952; Kuhn v. Foster, 16 Tex. Civ. App. 465, 41 S. W. 716.
1 Thoroughgood's Case, 1 Coke 435 (Part II, 5b); Bean v. Ry., 107 N. Car. 731, 12 S. E. 600.
2 Meyer v. Haas, 126 Cal. 560, 58 Ac. 1042; Stewart v. Ry., 141 Ind. 55, 40 N. E. 67; Miotke v. Ins. Co., 113 Mich. 166, 71 N. W. 463; Walker v. Ebert, 29 Wis. 194, 9 Am. Rep. 548.
3 Shurte v. Fletcher, 111 Mich. 84, 69 N. W. 233.
4 Stoner v. Zacharay, 122 la. 287, 97 N. W. 1098.
5 Richardson v. Renner, 91 Kan. 440, 138 Ac., 574.
6 Cote v. Williams, 12 Neb. 440, 11 N. W. 875.
7 Eldorado Jewelry Co. v. Darnell, 135 la. 555, 113 N. W. 344. (The purchaser attempted to countermand the order before the goods were sent to him.)
8 Muller v. Kelly, 116 Fed. 545; Con-stantine v. McDonald, 25 Ida. 342, 137 Ac. 531; French v. Merchants' & Miners' Transportation Co., 199 Mass. 433, 127 Am. St. Rep. 506, 19 L. R. A. (N.S.) 1006, 85 N. E. 424; McKinney v. Boston & M. R. R., 217 Mass. 274, 104 N. E. 446; Secoulsky v. Oceanic Steam Navigation Co., 223 Mass. 465, 112 N. E. 151.
If the written contract is read correctly, a party executing it can not avoid liability because he himself was not able to read.18 Many of these cases may, however, be explained on the theory that the offeree does not act under mistake in the technical sense of the term, but that he rather acts in conscious ignorance of the terms of the contract to which he is assenting.
9 District of Columbia. Stern v.. Moneyweight Scale Co., 42 D. C. App. 162.
Illinois. Shulman v. Moser, 284 111. 134, 119 N. E. 036.
Indiana, Stewart v. Ry., 141 Ind. 55, 40 N. E. 67.
Maryland. Wilson v. Pritchett, 90 Md. 583, 68 Atl. 360.
Pennsylvania. Welter's Appeal, 103 Pa. St. 504.
10 Shulman v. Moser, 284 III. 134, 110 N. E. 036.
11 Blossi v. Chicago & N. W. Ry. Co., 144 la. 607, 123 N. W. 360.
12 French v. Merchants' & Miners'
Transportation Co., 100 Mass. 433, 127 Am. St. Rep. 506, 10 L. R. A. (N.S.) 1006, 85 N. E. 424.
13 Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Ry. Co. v. Craig (Okla.), 157 Ac. 87.
14 United Breeders' Co. v. Wright, 130 Mo. App. 195, 122 S. W. 1105.
15 J. I. Case Threshing Mach. Co. v. Mattingry, 142 Ky. 581, 134 S.W. 1131.
16 Condon v. Rice, 88 Md. 720, 44 Atl. 160.
17 Rank v. Herwig, 121 La. 513, 46 So. 611.
18 "There is no pretense that the plaintiff was induced to sign the release through fraud or misrepresent ment and the person to whom it is read misunderstand one of the terms, specific performance will be denied as against the person who made such mistake.7 If such instrument gives a period of five days for acceptance by the person who prepares it, and if it purports to be an offer to him, and the person to whom it is read understands that he has five days in which to accept, acceptance by the party who prepared it does not conclude a contract which will be enforced specifically.