personal guarantee

Post image for Signing a Personal Guarantee Can Be Surprisingly Costly

When you own a small business, signing personal guarantees often seems like a necessary evil. Unless your company has strong credit, landlords, lenders, and others will often require you to personally guarantee your company’s obligations to them. One of the most harrowing experiences I had when I set up my own law firm was signing a merchant services agreement so I could accept payment by credit card — which of course required a personal guarantee.

Although business owners can protect their personal assets from their business’s liabilities by doing business through a corporation or a limited liability company, your company can’t shield you from liability arising out of your own actions. Also, you’ll be on the hook for company debts that you personally guarantee.

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Post image for Revisiting Personal Guarantees

There are a surprising number of cases dealing with whether people who purportedly signed a personal guarantee actually agreed to personally guarantee a contract.

Many of the issues I’ve seen arise when someone signs at the bottom of a contract as “guarantor” rather than signing a separate guarantee document. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, but it can cause issues. For example, I discussed a case in 2012 involving a corporate officer who signed a credit application that contained guarantee language. The officer signed the document only once, the signature did not indicate whether he was signing in his individual capacity or on behalf of the company, there was only one signature line, and the guarantee language did not clearly evidence that a personal guarantee was intended. The court held that the officer had not agreed to personally guarantee the company’s obligations and stated:

When considering whether a signatory to a contract intended to sign the agreement in his corporate or individual capacity, the determinative question is whether, in view of the form of the signature to the agreement, the language of the so called guaranty clause is sufficient to manifest a clear and explicit intent by [the signatory] to assume a personal guaranty contract. … Accordingly, our courts have adopted the policy that in order to hold a corporate officer individually liable in signing a contract of guaranty … the officer should sign the contract twice[,] once in his corporate capacity and once in his individual capacity…. By signing the contract twice, the officer executing the contract for his corporation clearly manifests his intent to assume personal liability. [citations and internal quotation marks omitted]

Drafters should clearly indicate that persons signing guarantees in contracts are signing in their individual capacities and they should include a separate signature block for them the sign in that capacity. [click to continue…]

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Lafarge North America, Inc. v. Miller

The Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Lafarge North America in its claim against Miller, the sole owner of a limited liability company, holding that material facts were in dispute as to whether Miller had agreed to personally guarantee Tiger’s obligations.

An employee of Tiger Ready Mix LLC, Miller’s company, had stamped Miller’s signature on a credit application and agreement to buy bags of concrete from Lafarge. When Tiger failed to pay several invoices, Lafarge sued Tiger for the debt and Miller on his purported personal guarantee. The appellate court quoted at length from Capitol Group, Inc. v. Collier, an opinion from earlier in the year in which the court stated that it would be difficult to prevail in an action to enforce a personal guarantee contained in a commercial contract where the individual didn’t sign the agreement twice — once in his capacity as an agent of the company and once in his individual capacity. (“While our caselaw does not hold that the only way an agent can be liable under a guaranty of this nature is by signing twice, this is the preferred method because it ‘clearly manifests his intent to assume personal liability.'”)

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Graham v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

In a case involving two uninsured motorist policies, the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District held that a State Farm policy provided coverage only to the extent that its policy limits exceeded the primary underinsured motorist coverage.

Two provisions in the policy were at issue. One read,

The most we pay will be the lesser of: a. the difference between the amount of the insured’s damages for bodily injury, and the amount paid to the insured by or for any person or organization who is or may be held legally liable for the bodily injury; or b. the limits of liability of this coverage.

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