Florida Releases of Liability Need Not Include References to Negligence to Be Effective

Contract-300x200A liability release does not need to include language that specifically references “negligence” or “negligent acts” for it to release a defendant from liability arising from its own negligence, the Florida Supreme Court held recently.

The case was a personal injury action filed by a woman injured while on vacation with her family. The family was visiting a resort owned by a nonprofit organization that provided vacations to the families of seriously ill children. On applying for the vacation, the family signed a general release applicable to  all “damages or losses or injuries” sustained while engaging in a number of activities. It also released the defendant from “any and all claims and causes of action of all kinds.” The release never specifically mentioned the defendant’s negligence.

The plaintiff was injured after a pneumatic lift collapsed, and she filed suit against the nonprofit organization and other defendants. The nonprofit defendant moved for summary judgment on the basis of the release. The trial court denied the motion in part because of public policy. The reasoning is that, in order for a party to be released from its own negligence, all those involved should have a clear understanding of the agreement. After a trial, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiffs and awarded just over $70,000 in damages.

Florida’s Fifth District reversed, holding that the broad language included in the waiver was sufficient to release the defendant from its own negligence, even though negligence is never mentioned. After a lengthy discussion, the Supreme Court determined that the word “negligence” was not required to release the defendant from liability.

A Florida negligence case will allege four elements:  that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty, that the defendant breached it, that the breach proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries, and that quantifiable damages were incurred.  For most cases, proving these elements is all that is required for the plaintiff to recover compensatory damages. However, if the plaintiff signed a waiver or release of liability, the validity of the release must be evaluated. If it is determined that the release was valid, the defendant may be absolved of liability, even if it was negligent.

Based on the Supreme Court’s recent decision, it appears that an agreement that does not specifically release a potential defendant from its own negligence may still have that effect. Floridians who are faced with signing a liability waiver should carefully consider whether or not they want to risk the waiver being enforceable in the event the other party is negligent. Even if the waiver does not mention the potential defendant’s negligence, it may still release the defendant from liability, leaving an injured plaintiff with no recourse.

If you were injured by the negligence of another person or company, you may be able to pursue compensation for your injuries, even if you signed a liability release. However, you should consult an experienced attorney who can advise you of your rights. Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano have years of experience helping Southwest Floridians through tough times. To schedule a free personal injury case consultation, call (800) 283-7442.

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Florida Supreme Court Rules that Verbal Promises Regarding a Real Estate Contract Are Not Enforceable Unless in Writing, November 10, 2014