A customer disputes your claim for extras in some change orders you’ve submitted. You explain that the scope of the contracted work has been changed, but the owner isn’t seeing it your way. You complete the punch list work and receive a check—marked “payment in full” in the memo line—for less than the invoiced amount, along with a letter from the homeowner explaining his position. You wonder: If I cash the check, will I still be able to make a claim for the unpaid balance?

Unfortunately, in many jurisdictions, the answer is no. When parties mutually intend to settle an existing dispute regarding an amount due by accepting a certain payment amount (such as a check marked “payment in full”), then that payment will result in the discharge of the prior disputed obligation (an “accord and satisfaction” in legal terms)....

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