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Can writing "Paid in full" on a check that is substantially less than the balance owed act as a legal agreement if cashed in the state of Washington?

WashingtonPayment Disputes

Our customer is acting as their own general contractor on the job to try and save money. On our final invoice for our scope, she shorted us 70% of the final invoice value ($39k). She wrote on the check that "By cashing check, contractor accepts this as payment in full". She provided her list of reasons for shorting the amount, but they are completely unwarranted/previously addressed, and the only legitimate item called out was incredibly vague detail on the plans (insulation for slab on grade above and beyond normal building code) and she failed to provide any answers when consulted at the time, leaving it up to interpretation by us. She also failed to mention she was going to withhold payment for it at that time, and allowed the complete interior of the building to be completed preventing us from even fixing the item even if we were willing to. If we cash the check are we agreeing to it being payment in full even though we do not agree and wish to process it as a partial payment of the balance due?

2 replies

Apr 10, 2019
That's a good question. Where a check clearly indicates that it is intended as final payment, it's generally not a good idea to cash that check if the recipient of that check does not agree that the amount of the check represents final payment. Regardless of what may or may not actually be owed, by cashing the check, the business receiving payment is indicating that the terms written on the check are acceptable. While it might be possible to eventually refute that assumption - by accepting and cashing a check that's obviously intended for final payment (but is actually far short of what's owed), a claimant could be setting themselves up for an ugly payment dispute, and potentially, a losing battle. This is especially true where an owner has expressly provided reasoning why the payment is less than what was originally agreed to. Remember - it's not enough to be "right". Even if a partial check could be cashed, the claimant would still need to pursue "full" payment from the party who had sent the check, and that could ultimately require some legal process. So, if additional recovery efforts would be required one way or another, generally, it's a good idea for claimants to keep themselves in the best position possible for recovering what they're owed.
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Jul 29, 2022

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