Understanding the Exculpatory Clause
An exculpatory clause is a contract provision that relieves one party from liability if executing the contract results in damages. The goal is to prevent personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits. For example, a dry cleaning receipt might include an exculpatory clause freeing the company from liability if the clothing item changes color or texture during the cleaning process. Or a valet ticket might include a clause freeing the valet company from liability for damage to the vehicle or loss of contents.
Similarly fitness clubs and recreation centers typically require members and guests to sign waivers relieving them from liability for foreseeable injuries like pulled or strained muscles. Most exculpatory clauses and liability waivers are legally enforceable, but there are situations in which a court might find them unreasonable. In those cases injured parties may be able to recover damages.
The Language in an Exculpatory Clause
While courts may invalidate an unreasonable exculpatory clause, they cannot strike the provision just because it doesn’t reference “negligence” or “negligent acts.” The Florida Supreme Court established this standard in a 2015 ruling.
The case involved a nonprofit organization called Give Kids the World, Inc., which provides seriously ill children and their families free vacations at GKW’s resort village. The Sanislo family filled out an application to use the resort, and upon arrival, they also filled out a liability release form. Both documents included the same exculpatory provision.
One woman was injured at the resort when a wheelchair lift on a wagon collapsed. She filed a personal injury lawsuit against GKW, which argued that her claims were barred by the exculpatory clause.
The trial court agreed with the woman, finding that the clause language did not bar a negligence action. The appeals court reversed that decision, finding that the clause didn’t have to expressly say “negligent” or “negligent acts” to preclude parties from filing personal injury lawsuits. The woman asked the Florida Supreme Court to review her case. But the high court agreed that GKW’s clause was enforceable.
“Exculpatory clauses are unambiguous and enforceable where the intention to be relieved from liability [is] clear and unequivocal and the wording [is] so clear and understandable that an ordinary and knowledgeable person will know what he or she is contracting away.” GKW’s form, the court ruled, was sufficiently clear and barred the woman’s negligence claims.
Can I Still File My Personal Injury Claim?
Not every exculpatory clause is enforceable. Maybe the clause that you signed isn’t clear or maybe the contract is unenforceable for another reason. Don’t assume that because you signed a liability release form that you don’t have a viable cause of action. Consult with an experienced attorney who can examine the facts of your case and help you determine the best path forward.
Contact Us Today
Were you injured after signing a waiver or contract that includes an exculpatory clause? The West Palm Beach personal injury attorneys at The Pendas Law Firm will analyze the facts and explain your legal options. Contact us today for a free consultation.
The Pendas Law Firm also represents clients in the Orlando, Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Miami, Tampa, Daytona Beach and Bradenton areas.