Notary Public Legal Responsibility & Liability

By Allison Streepey, BA, CRS, PLS

A notary is a public servant appointed by the state whose job is to guarantee that the signature on a legal document is valid by attesting that the signer “personally appeared” before them. They need to be an impartial, non-biased witness who checks the identification of the signer carefully, reviews each document thoroughly, and does not notarize deceptive or fraudulent documents. Every notarized action should be considered confidential and a notary should keep a record of all transactions in a journal and secure this information.1 Notarized documents are considered to be authentic in legal matters.2

The rise in identity theft and homeland security matters has caused the notary public’s role in the legal process to become even more significant in deterring document and identity fraud. The notary’s role and journal are also important for issues in regard to immigration, domestic and international commerce and travel, etc. Now, more than ever, it is important for the notary to perform their function in a meticulous way because a notary may be sued right along with their employer.

A notary and the notary’s employer were found liable for neglect in a fraudulent document case involving a real estate transaction in 2009. Vancura v. Katris set legal precedent in the Appellate Court of Illinois in that employers are now liable for the training and supervision of notaries under their employ. In this case, a mortgage assignment document was notarized without the signer being present and the signature on the document was fraudulent. The Court relied on The Model Notary Act3 as the authority to define the responsibility of a notary public and found that Kincos was negligent in the common law responsibility to protect the public through a reasonable standard of care in properly training and supervising their notary employee.

The responsibility placed on a notary public is serious business. It costs more for a notary to be sued than the cost of their notary bond. In the Vancura v. Katris case, total loss to the plaintiff was $110,000 plus interest and the misconduct of the notary was settled out of the notary’s pocket for $30,000.4 Now a notary can purchase Errors and Omissions Bond Insurance (O&E Insurance) which offers some protection against potential lawsuits.

The best protection is to know your business as a notary public. The National Notary Association (NNA) uses The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility and serves to educate notaries and non-notaries in order to reduce fraud and fraud litigation. Many states require that notaries stay up-to-date with the laws and requirements of the position through mandatory courses and certification exams. The NNA web site has links to notary commission information for each state as well as current training available in seminars, online classes, and CD-Roms. The notary should become familiar with The Model Notary Act and The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility. The ultimate protection would be to join the National Notary Association in order to comprehend and apply the best practices for consumer protection, maintain professionalism and ethical consideration for the profession, and stay current with the changes in notary law across the country.2

Allison Streepey, BA, CRS, PLS, is the Business Manager for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Office of Educational Development using her foundation in legal work, faculty scholarship, and research. After working as a legal assistant in contract law, Ms. Streepey has over 15 years experience in grant and manuscript production, was the Senior Grants Administrator for UAMS Office of Research and Sponsored programs and also served as an IRB Administrator for the protection of human subjects. She graduated UALR with honors and is certified through UAMS as a Grants Administrator and Research Specialist. Ms. Streepey has achieved the NALS PLS certification and is on the NALS @Law Committee. She is a member of the UAMS House of Delegates and the UAMS Library History of Medicine Associates.


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