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Notary Bulletin

4 Lawsuits, 4 Lessons In Notary Liability

Updated-lawsuit-resized.jpgUpdated 4-13-20.  Being sued over a notarization is painful for any Notary and costly in time, stress and legal fees. And sometimes Notaries are sued even when they aren't at fault. 

Merchants Bonding Company, the carrier for NNA bonds and insurance policies, recently shared a number of Notary claims with the Notary Bulletin. These claims provide important lessons about protecting yourself from financial liability resulting from the notarizations you perform.

The Case of the Stubborn Plaintiff

In this case, a Notary was asked to visit a hospital and notarize a power of attorney document. The document granted the signer’s friend the right to handle his medical and legal affairs while he was hospitalized. The signer later filed a lawsuit against the Notary, claiming he was not aware of what he was signing.

During the case, the plaintiff was declared a “vexatious litigant” by the court after it was learned he had a history of filing frivolous lawsuits. The Notary’s attorney claimed the grounds for the suit were legally insufficient and the court upheld this claim.

But, the plaintiff didn’t stop. He filed a second suit against the Notary and several other defendants a year later. Eventually the second case was settled, but not until the Notary incurred additional attorney fees in responding to the new allegations.

Notary Liability Lesson 1:

This case teaches an important lesson. Litigation can get messy, and sometimes litigants don’t give up. As a result, you can incur significant costs in defending yourself — even against frivolous claims. In this instance, the Notary had an errors and omissions insurance policy, and it took a substantial amount of the policy to defend the Notary in both actions. Without a policy with sufficient coverage to absorb all the costs, he would have had to pay the expenses out of his own pocket.

The Case of the Notary Caught in the Crossfire

Some Notaries assume that they don’t have to carry an E&O policy as long as they don’t make mistakes. As this next case shows, even a blameless Notary can be dragged into a lawsuit.

In this situation, the Notary was among several individuals sued for more than $200,000 over a real estate transaction. The litigant claimed the Notary had failed to properly check a signer’s identity during the transaction. Later investigation acquitted the Notary of all wrongdoing.

However, the lawsuit proved extremely difficult — and costly — to resolve because of the multiple complaints and cross-complaints involving the numerous defendants.

Notary Liability Lesson 2:

Your financial risk as a Notary often has nothing to do with being right. You can be right and still end up with legal bills. Fortunately, the Notary’s E&O policy in this case paid the legal expenses.

The Case of the Costly Thumbprint

In this case, an oversight when recording a journal entry got a Notary into serious legal trouble. During a notarization involving real property, the Notary was distracted and failed to take the signer’s thumbprint for her journal entry as required by state law. It was later discovered that the signer was an impostor, and the Notary was sued for $250,000.

Notary Liability Lesson 3:

After lengthy negotiations, the case was eventually settled, but the Notary’s full E&O policy was exhausted. The lesson here is that E&O insurance will cover claims up to their policy's limit when Notaries are clearly negligent, as in this case where the Notary forgot to obtain the signer’s thumbprint in the journal entry. It happens; people make mistakes. Even good Notaries make mistakes.

The Case of Multiple Mistakes

As bad as it is for a Notary to be sued after following proper procedure, the situation can be even worse if the Notary ignores state rules when verifying a signer’s identity.

In this case, the Notary was asked to notarize the signatures of two individuals who signed a deed of trust in buying a property. Since the signers had no ID, the Notary identified them using a single credible identifying witness — the agent representing the signers. State law required the Notary to personally know the witness, but the Notary hardly knew the agent. In addition, the Notary failed to obtain the thumbprints of the signers in her journal. The settlement and legal fees were substantial.

Notary Liability Lesson 4:

By ignoring the rules for identifying signers and obtaining thumbprints, the defendant in this case not only faced a costly lawsuit but left the transaction vulnerable to potential fraud. In fact, a handwriting expert indicated that it was “highly probable” the signatures notarized on the deed of trust in question were forged. Fortunately for the Notary, the E&O policy covered multiple mistakes in the same claim, which is true of many policies as long as the violations aren’t intentional.

E&O Insurance Helps Cover Legal Costs For Notaries

You also should be aware that you could be caught up in a legal action even if you are not named in a lawsuit. There have been several situations in which Notaries have received subpoenas for information about a notarization they performed. Subpoenas included requests for Notary journal entries or affidavits or a demand to appear at a deposition to provide information about a past notarization.

If you are served with a subpoena, an E&O policy that covers attorney costs helps make sure you'll have a lawyer's legal guidance when responding to the subpoena. It also helps you avoid being named in the lawsuit, and aids in covering legal fees.  

Conclusions About Notary Lawsuits

Following your state’s laws and best practices will take you far in protecting your Notary practice from legal action. But it won’t take you all the way. For the last mile, you’ll need an errors and omissions insurance policy. While Notary bond and insurance claims are infrequent, no Notary is immune to liability. You can make a mistake that financially harms a signer. You can do everything right and still end up in court. You can face litigious plaintiffs who will try more than once to find you at fault and make you pay. The good news is that, for all of these reasons, there’s Notary E&O insurance.

David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.



View All: Best Practices


Add your comment

R C Leyva

09 Jan 2017

need this information

Ray Leyva

09 Jan 2017

want to view

National Notary Association

09 Jan 2017

Hello. All our Bulletin articles are open to viewing by the public at no charge. If you are having trouble viewing an article, please contact us at with a description of the problem and we'll try to assist you.

Jerilyn Atkinson

22 Feb 2018

What states require the journal? If not required but I use one do u have to get thumb print?

National Notary Association

23 Feb 2018

Hello. If you are in a state where a Notary journal is not required by law, you may ask the signer for a thumbprint, but it is the signer's choice to provide one or not. The signer has the option to say no. If you can let us know what state you are in, we can provide you with information about your state's journal requirements.

Jerilyn Atkinson

26 Feb 2018

I’m in Indiana I do a journal but it’s not required unless it changed

National Notary Association

26 Feb 2018

It's not required in Indiana, but is recommended by state officials.

Jerilyn Atkinson

26 Feb 2018

I’m in Indiana had questions about journal

National Notary Association

26 Feb 2018

Hello. You can post your question here or contact our Hotline team at

David L Phipps, Jr.

26 Feb 2018

Is a journal or thumb print required in Maryland?

National Notary Association

01 Mar 2018

Hello. Maryland Notaries must keep a journal of their acts, but are not required to take a thumbprint from signers for their journal entries. (ACM St. Gov. 18-107)

Lily Turner

26 Feb 2018

In the first two examples of lawsuits against a notary, the notary made no errors or omissions, so how is it that E&O insurance covered their legal expenses? I would have thought the expenses would have been covered by their bonding agency. Please clarify.

National Notary Association

01 Mar 2018

Hello. A surety bond does not provide coverage to the Notary. The surety bond is used to pay damages if a consumer suffers harm as the result of the Notary's negligence. For more information, please see here:

Cynthia Helbert

07 Jul 2018

If a notary in Indiana notarized a fraudulently signed document, at a bank, who is liable, her or the bank she works for if she is deceased.xr7Uv5

National Notary Association

09 Jul 2018

Hello. Any questions regarding liability for a fradulent document would have to be decided in a court of law. If you have legal questions about a fraudulent document, you will need to contact a qualified attorney.

Brenda Burns

14 Jul 2018

My sister's husband had a new Will foged after her death and had a friend Notary to notorize tbe document that supposedly happened while she was alive. We had a hand writing expert testify tbat it was forged but because rhe notary's husband was a police officer snd the sposes son was a police officer the judge ignored it on bases that the notary and 2 witnesses that happened to be her daughter and son in law stood up in court and swore that they witnessed my sister sivn the new Will. In my book that is totally conspiracy and unfair. What can we do? Can we sue the notary personally? Thank you, Brenda Burns

National Notary Association

16 Jul 2018

Hi Brenda. Any questions regarding grounds for a lawsuit against a Notary would need to be answered by a qualified attorney.

Craig Lambert

19 Jul 2019

How does one verify the insurance policy information for a notary. The notary is in Arizona.

National Notary Association

23 Jul 2019

Based on what you’ve described, we think it would be best if you contacted our Hotline team by phone and provided them with a more detailed description of the situation. The NNA Hotline: 1-888-876-0827 Mon – Fri: 5:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (PT) Saturday: 5:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (PT) If you’re not an NNA Member or Hotline Subscriber, they will provide you with a one-time courtesy call.

James G Reynolds

02 Sep 2019

How do I get a E&O policy

National Notary Association

03 Sep 2019

Hello. Information on E&O policies through the NNA is available here:

Roberta Danese Hammon

20 Apr 2020

What should I do if I receive a document notarized by another notary, but it is missing the "Notice" and the document contains blanks???

National Notary Association

20 Apr 2020

Based on what you’ve described, we think it would be best if you contacted our Hotline team by phone and provided them with a more detailed description of the situation. The NNA Hotline: 1-888-876-0827 Mon – Fri: 5:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (PT) Saturday: 5:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (PT) If you’re not an NNA Member or Hotline Subscriber, they will provide you with a one-time courtesy call.

Ellen W Smith

21 Apr 2020

How long after you notarize a document can someone sue you. What if you are no longer a notary?

National Notary Association

22 Apr 2020

Hello. A Notary can be sued months or years after a notarization took place. Please see here for more information:

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