Does an electronic signature hold up in court?

If you’ve ever requested an eSignature on a document or provided one yourself, you may have found yourself wondering, “does an electronic signature hold up in court?”

The simple answer is yes.

However, various criteria must be met for the use of electronic signatures to be legally-binding.

This includes proving the identity of the signatory, their intent when signing, and the integrity of the document.

ESignatures vs. wet signatures: What’s the difference?

Wet signatures and eSignatures — while both legally valid — vary in several ways.

The most obvious difference is their appearance, as wet signatures involve a document being physically marked by a signatory.

An eSignature, on the other hand, is signed digitally through an electronic device.

eSignatures are an electronic record, meaning collection and retention is more secure, as there’s no need to scan and file away hard copies.

There are also numerous other reasons to use them, as they eliminate the need for storage of physical documents and reduce the amount of time employees have to spend filing paperwork. 

There are several types of electronic signatures that can be used depending on your requirements.

The different types of eSignatures include basic eSignatures, advanced eSignatures, and qualified eSignatures.  

Do electronic signatures hold up in court?

The simple answer is yes. Electronic signatures have all the same legal protections as handwritten signatures and are admissible in court as long as certain criteria are met. 

In the United States, judges have consistently ruled for eSignatures.

This is largely due to the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act 2000, also known as the ESIGN Act, and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) 2011.

There have also been various pieces of legislation in state law across the US, including the Electronic Signatures and Records Act (ESRA) in New York and the Electronic Commerce Security Act in Illinois.

These pieces of legislation ensure that eSignatures have the same legal standing as ink signatures in federal law.

They state that transactions should not be denied legal effect solely because they’re electronic, which means you can have an electronic signature on court documents, contracts, or any other legally-binding document you may use.

What makes electronic signatures legal?

There are various criteria that need to be met for authentication of an electronic signature for court or any other kind of documents in order to ensure their admissibility and the enforceability of eSignature legislation.

Identity of the signatory

In order for an eSignature to be legally admissible, the signer’s identity must be verifiable.

This means that it must be possible to determine who’s signed the contract, that they’re a real person, and that the person named on the document is the one who’s signed it.

There are several methods by which the identity of the signatory can be verified: 

1. Email address

The signatory can be prompted to enter their email address upon signing, which should match the email address used in the invitation to sign.

2. One-time passcode

The sender of an electronic form supplies the signatory with a unique passcode that must be entered.

3. SMS

A one-time passcode is sent via text message for the signatory to enter upon signing.

Information about every interaction regarding the signed document will be logged, such as timestamps and IP addresses, which can help with an audit trail at a later date.

The more strict the method of identity verification, the more secure it is. 

Intent to sign

The content of the document and the intent of the involved parties are other factors that will be taken into account.

It must be ascertained that all parties signing the document electronically knew that they were signing a legally-binding document and intended to do so.

Each party must also sign the same version of the document.

Any changes made in between signings will result in a new contract offer. 

Integrity of the document

Finally, the integrity of a document must be maintained after all parties have signed it for it to be deemed legally admissible.

This prevents tampering with a document after signing.

The integrity of electronic documents can be proven using encryption methods. A document will be “hashed”, meaning that it has a unique value assigned to it.

If even a slight change is made to the document, then a completely different hash value will be created, which will easily reveal that the document has been altered.

Use legally-binding electronic signatures

So, does an electronic signature hold up in court?

Yes, as long as you meet the necessary criteria. 

If you want to avoid legal issues with electronic signatures, then you’ll probably want to make use of an eSignature solution that helps you prove the identity of your signer and the integrity of your electronically signed documents.

Not only does PandaDoc help you to streamline all your document workflows, but it also provides signature software features that give you peace of mind that you won’t run into legalities surrounding eSignature laws. 

PandaDoc offers trackable digital signatures, signature certificates, recipient verification, and secure encryption.

In other words, all the tools you need to ensure that your legal documents and signed contracts are secure and legally compliant with all eSignature regulations.