Are Electronic Signatures Admissible in Court?

Electronic signatures are commonplace in the business world. They’re more convenient and efficient than pen and ink signatures. But can the authenticity of an e-signature be proved like a traditional wet signature?

The short answer: yes, it can. Authenticity is easier to prove, in fact, thanks to built-in digital audit trails.

Let’s explore whether electronic signatures hold up in court, how audit trails provide additional protection, and look at recent court rulings that reinforce their legitimacy.

This blog post is offered for general information purposes only. It does not constitute, and is not a substitute for, legal advice.

Electronic signatures are admissible in court

In disputes over agreements, courts are sometimes charged with establishing whether a signature is valid and attributing it to the signer, based on an evidentiary burden of proof. Electronic signatures have been validated as an acceptable and legal option for signing documents and proving the authenticity of that signature in court.

In the United States, the legality of electronic signatures has been affirmed by the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (“ESIGN”) and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (“UETA”). These laws hold that electronic signatures carry the same legal weight as a “wet” signature.

One of the most notable aspects of a digital signature is its digital audit trail. The data captured along with an electronic signature provides more concrete evidence around the authenticity of someone’s signature, and thereby their obligations under a contract, making it easier to meet the burden of proof.

E-signatures vs. wet signatures: the benefit of audit trails

Typically for wet signatures, validity and attribution are established by comparing copies of signatures and presenting testimony from handwriting experts or witnesses who were present at the signing. Not only is this expensive and time consuming, it’s less reliable due to the human element.

By removing the chance for human error and automating the entire data capturing process, audit trails make it easier to establish authenticity and address disputes over signatures both in state and federal courts.

Audit trails are effective in establishing a signatory because of information they contain. Data establishing IP addresses, date, time and location for when a contract was received, viewed and signed has proven particularly relevant to establishing signature authenticity.

One state case, IO Moonwalkers, Inc. v. Bank of America, went as far as to say that the Docusign system established an electronic trail of information (send, receipt, signature, review) that wasn’t available before the digital age. This suggests that a Docusign electronic signature is a more credible method of establishing evidence than a sworn statement of whether an agreement was sent via mail.

Best practices for establishing an e-signature audit trail

All audit trails are not created equal, so how the audit trail is set up is crucial. If done right, there’s an amazing amount of case law to support their admissibility in court.

The Docusign eSignature audit trail includes all the components mentioned in the case law and follows a secure and documented process necessary for court admissibility:

  • A complete, automated history of every viewing, printing, sending, signing or declining activity, including key event timestamps
  • Identifying data, such as the signer’s IP address or officially affiliated email address
  • Geolocation of signers, if they agree to share that info
  • A tamper-evident seal that validates documents haven’t been altered outside of each signing event
  • A court-admissible certificate of completion available to all participants in the transaction
  • Multiple levels of authentication based on email, access code, SMS, phone, geo-location and more

Docusign also takes a security-first approach to e-signatures to ensure all audit trails, certificates of completion and customer documents that flow through the Docusign Agreement Cloud stay safe, secure and unaltered before, during and after signing.

For more on the security of e-signatures in general and what makes them safe, read “Are electronic signatures safe?

Court support for electronic signature admissibility

Established case law demonstrates that secure, established digital audit trails strengthen a party’s position in court as compared to wet signatures, image signatures and less mature e-signature solutions.

For more information on court support for electronic signatures overall and Docusign eSignature in particular, read: