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“I sent an email to my insurance carrier to add a new car for coverage, but they claim they never received it, and now won’t cover the damage sustained in the crash, what can I do legally?”

I’m Katelyn Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss topics related to personal injury law.

Today we’ll look at the topic of what the law says about when an email is deemed sent and received.

Historically, contract law has governed our business dealings. But in this technological age, it has been found lacking. So, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws wrote a model act called the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act to govern transactions conducted via email over the internet.

Many states have adopted the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, including Indiana.

The Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) was designed, in particular, to remove barriers to electronic commerce by validating and providing a clear framework for electronic records, signatures, and contracts as it pertains to people and businesses that have agreed to conduct business electronically.

As models for doing business have evolved to incorporate the speed, efficiencies, and financial savings offered by electronic technologies, the government has realized it does not want to stand in the way of such valuable economic potential, yet it does want to ensure that certain legal requirements are spelled out in order to bring certainty and consistency to e-commerce.

People and businesses conduct all kinds of transactions electronically these days, and e-commerce will only continue to expand in future years. Whether you’ve purchased something through the internet, completed an online banking transaction, signed e-documents by checking a box on a computer, or communicated to your healthcare provider through an online messaging portal, you’ve likely benefited from the convenience of e-commerce in one way or another.

When email is used for business purposes, then the UETA steps in and provides the ground rules for when an email will be considered “sent” and “received” by law.

Let’s say you’re arranging for a company to come and apply fertilizer and weed killer to your lawn. The company emails you its estimate for the job and you respond to the email saying that you want to go ahead and have them do the job for you. You send the company the money for the job, and you believe that it has come out and applied the fertilizer and weed killer. This would be an example of an electronic transaction covered under Indiana’s UETA.

Now let’s say you paid the fertilizer company, but later find out that it did not actually do the job—and it claims it never received your email in response to their emailed estimate. What does the law have to say about whether your email was actually sent and received?

Well, under Indiana’s UETA, an email is considered to be sent when it enters a processing system outside of the sender’s control in a properly addressed format. Similarly, an email is considered to be received when it enters a recipient’s processing system. Importantly, the law specifically notes that a recipient’s lack of awareness of receipt has no bearing on whether an email is legally deemed to have been received.

As you may know, when someone sends an email, it first must leave the sender’s Message Transfer Agent (MTA) and then it begins the routing process through the network from one MTA to another until it reaches the recipient’s mail server. After it leaves the sender’s MTA and is in the hop-to-hop routing process, if an error occurs at any point through the various MTAs, then a bounce message is automatically generated and sent to the sender notifying of a delivery failure.

So in our example, if you sent an email to the fertilizer company that was properly addressed and you did not get an error message after you sent it (assuming you had an internet connection and it truly left your MTA and began the delivery routing process), then by law, that email is deemed sent because it left your MTA—it entered a processing system outside of the email sender’s control. Furthermore, the law would deem it to be successfully received by the recipient, even if the recipient was unaware of it, since no delivery error message was generated as the email went through the delivery process and finally entered a processing system within the recipient’s control.

The comments to the UETA, which show the drafters’ intent, emphasize that the law is designed to bind the computer user, regardless of whether that human user actually looks at and reviews a particular email or electronic transaction. It is no different from how the law views a paper notice in someone’s mailbox effectively received even if the recipient never actually opens and reads the mailed paper notice.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you have questions about your legal rights if you get hurt due to the carelessness of another person, or as a result of substandard medical care, or due to a product defect, construction injury, or any other type of personal injury, please give us a call at (219) 736-9700. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at DavidHolubLaw.com – while there make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth”.