Disclaimers and Legal Warnings in E-mails
If you have used e-mail for any length of time, then you have probably encountered an e-mail containing rather scary legal jargon at the bottom of the posting.
Here is an example of a disclaimer notice at the end of an e-mail that I have received.
The information contained in this communication may be confidential or legally privileged and is intended only for the recipient named above.
If the reader of this message is not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any dissemination, distribution or copying of this communication or its contents is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error, please immediately advise the sender and delete the original and any copies from your computer system.
Do These Legal Disclaimers Carry Any Legal Teeth?
Ryan Singel recently investigated this question in an article entitled “Burning Question: Why do emails contain those legal warnings?” published in the Jan 2011 edition of Wired Magazine (p. 52). His conversation with Cory Doctorow, a digital rights activist, revealed that these disclaimers have no legal teeth at all. In other words, if you sent your e-mail to the wrong address by accident then the disclaimer would not be legally binding on the recipient.
Are the Disclaimers Worthless?
Ironically, the disclaimers are not necessarily worthless. At minimum, they would suggest that you care about confidentiality when dealing with client issues. For the article stated, if your e-mail lacks the disclaimer then it could be argued that you didn’t care who read the document.
Bottom Line–Action Step
Keep or add the disclaimer as it might provide you some protection if your e-mail gets into the wrong hands (at minimum it would show you care.) But don’t bet your life or business on the disclaimer actually doing anything. Spend your time making sure that you are sending your missives to the right recipient and be careful what you put in writing.
Stephen M. Vantassel, CWCP, ACP specializes in wildlife damage management and the companies that resolve conflicts with wildlife. He is NOT an attorney but can help with consultation, writing, research, and expert testimony.