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Don’t Assume You Can’t Sue Just Because You’ve Signed On The Dotted Line

Posted on July 25, 2012

If you sign a document that contains an exculpatory clause that appears to release a person or institution from liability for an injury that happens to you on their property, does it necessarily mean you’ve signed your life away and will be left holding the bag if you are injured?

Simply put, the answer is no.

Case in point: a man named Richard Hackett was staying at the Grand Seas Resort in Daytona Beach — a condominium timeshare — when a piece of patio furniture he was sitting on broke and he suffered an injury.

Before he had come to the resort, he had signed some paperwork that included the exculpatory clause, “Notice to Guest: This property is privately owned. Management reserves the right to refuse service to anyone, and will not be responsible for accidents or injury to guests or for loss of money, jewelry or valuables of any kind.”

Not one to be deterred, Mr. Hackett consulted an attorney. His lawyer told him that unless clauses that release people or institutions from their legal responsibilities are clear, unambiguous, and unequivocal, they are very hard to enforce. In other words, he had a case.

At trial, Grand Seas Resort argued that the clause was clear — and the court agreed.

Mr. Hackett appealed.

The 4th District Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s judgment, saying that the vague reference to “accidents and injuries” was not clear. Did the resort mean it was not liable for accidents caused by clumsiness or by negligence? The verbiage simply was not specific enough.

Just because you may have signed a document or waiver that contains an exculpatory clause, it does not mean that you’ve thrown away your legal rights. If you’ve been injured due to another party’s negligence, consulting with a Florida personal injury attorney at Farah & Farah is always in your best interest. You may have legal options, even if you think you don’t. Call us at (800) 533-3555.