How Far Can an Exculpatory Clause Go?

In Florida personal injury cases, plaintiffs have to face and overcome an array of defenses before their case is successful. One defense a plaintiff may face is overcoming an exculpatory clause. An exculpatory clause is a contract provision that relieves one party of liability if damages are caused during the execution of the contract. The party who is seeking to relieved of the potential liability is often the party that is requesting the clause. As an example, at major sporting events, the stadium or team may print an exculpatory clause on the tickets it sells indicating that it is not responsible for personal injury caused or suffered during the game. This begs the question of how far can an exculpatory clause go to relieve a defendant’s liability.

In a recent case from the 5th District Court of Appeals of Florida, the issue was addressed and the court’s analysis focused on the actual wording of the clause. See Hackett v. Grand Seas Resort Owner’s Assoc. Inc., So.3d 37 FLW D1488 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012). In the Hackett case, the appellate court held that an exculpatory clause prepared by a condominium unit owner’s association that was executed by a guest prior to staying at the resort and that simply stated “management … will not be responsible for accidents or injury to guest” was too ambiguous to be enforceable against a resort guest who was injured when a patio chair collapsed on the premises.

The court found that the word “accident’ in the clause was too ambiguous to support the exculpation of negligence, as an accident is not the same thing as a negligent act. Additionally, the court found that “management” was never defined and the association who was defending the lawsuit was never associated with the term management. Based on the appellate court’s decision it appears that just because there is an exculpatory clause defense does not mean that the clause itself will be upheld. Therefore each clause must be examined to analyze whether the terms are sufficient.

In the event you have a question regarding a personal injury case or if you have suffered an injury as a result of someone else’s negligence, we invite you to contact the Tampa law firm of Robert Sparks Attorneys, PLLC for a free case evaluation.