Are Digitally Scanned Signatures on Documents Legally Binding?

In my post last week, I wrote about a bill passed by the Georgia General Assembly during this year’s session that formally authorizes the electronic delivery of insurance policies, as well as other types of documents, including cancellation and nonrenewal notices. Later that week, I received a call on the Free Legal Service program that I run for IIAG members in which I was asked if there was any statute that governed the binding effect of digitally scanned signatures on documents.  I was not able to find any such statute that applied to Georgia transactions.

The Georgia Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, which is referred to in the bill that was recently passed, governs the legal validity of “electronic records” and “electronic signatures.”   Unfortunately, the definition of “electronic signature” does not appear to cover a digitally scanned signature.  An “electronic signature” is defined as an “electronic sound, symbol, or process attached to or logically associated with a record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record.”

In the absence of any statutory authority, it would be a matter of agreement between the parties to a transaction as to whether a digitally scanned signature would be considered binding on them.  Many of the contracts I see and now prepare contain clauses that address this subject and state that a digitally scanned signature page will be binding on the party whose signature is on the page.  If there has been no such agreement among the parties, a court will generally require the production of an original executed signature page, unless there is an acceptable reason for the inability to produce such a document, in which event a copy of the signature page would be acceptable proof of the execution of the document in question.  However, this general rule would not apply if a specific statute governed the transaction in question and required the production of the original signature page in order for the document in question to have legal validity.

In light of the above state of the law in Georgia, if you do not want to have to obtain an executed original signature page of a document, that document should include a clause that states a digitally scanned or telefax copy of a signature page will be treated as binding on the person whose signature appears on that page.  If you don’t want to have to change your existing documents, it would also be acceptable to have the other party agree in a separate document, which preferably should be signed by them but could be an e-mail sent by them, that a digitally scanned or telefax copy of all documents that may be signed by that party will be binding on them.   Of course, you should check with your insurance companies and other providers on their policies concerning the acceptability of digitally scanned or telefax signature pages for their applications and other documents, as they may have reasons for wanting their agents to obtain executed original signature pages of such documents.