No Magic Words for Liability Waivers in Florida Negligence Cases, Court Says – Give Kids the World v. Sanislo

Waivers and releases are a fact of life. In order to engage in a wide variety of activity, from watching a movie to boarding a cruise ship, businesses require their customers to sign all types of forms and agreements limiting the ability to sue the company in case of an accident. In Give Kids the World, Inc. v. Sanislo, the First District Court of Appeal explains that a waiver or release agreement may bar a negligence lawsuit, even where it does not expressly include “negligence” in the type of claims being waived.

Give Kids the World is a non-profit company that helps children suffering from serious illnesses and their families enjoy a “storybook” vacation. Mr. and Mrs. Sanislo, along with their daughter, visited the GKTW Village in 2004. Before traveling to the Village, the Sanislos signed an agreement releasing GKTW from “any and all claims and causes of action of every kind arising from any and all physical or emotional injuries and/or damages which may happen to me/us” during their visit to the Village.

Mrs. Sanislo was injured during the family’s stay at the Village when a wheelchair lift collapsed while she and her husband were sitting on it. The family later sued GKTW, claiming that the accident was caused by the organization’s negligence. Although GKTW argued that the release agreement barred the suit, a trial court disagreed, denying the company’s motion for summary judgment. Following trial, a jury awarded a verdict for the Sanislos.

On appeal, however, the Fifth District reversed the ruling. “[U]nambiguous exculpatory contracts are enforceable unless they contravene public policy,” the court explained, citing its 2008 decision in Applegate v. Cable Water Ski. The language of a release agreement has to be sufficiently clear so as to let the person signing know what it is that they are agreeing to. That said, the contract need not describe each and every way in which a person may be injured for it to constitute a valid release, according to the court.

Nor need it expressly cover negligence claims, at least in the First District. For example, the court noted that it previously found that waiver agreement releasing “any and all liability, claims, demands, actions, and causes of action whatsoever,” covered a negligence action against a motocross track owner by an injured bike rider.

In this case, the court ruled that the release agreement’s language was specific enough to make clear to the Sanislos that they were releasing GKTW from liability and broad enough to cover liability related to negligence. “The ability to predict each and every potential injury is unattainable and is not required to uphold an exculpatory provision within a release,” the court added.

Nevertheless, the court noted that the First District is the only of the Florida appellate courts to hold that a release agreement that does not expressly include the waiver of negligence claims may be found to bar such claims. It certified a conflict with the other districts on this issue, leaving the door open for the state supreme court to eventually weigh in.

The South Florida personal injury attorneys at Anidjar & Levine represent clients throughout the region, including in Boca Raton, Hollywood and Pompano Beach. We are happy to discuss your potential claim in a free initial consultation. You can reach the firm’s Ft. Lauderdale offices at 800-747-3733 or fill out an on-line “Contact Us” form.

Related blog posts:

Settlements, Releases and Joint Tortfeasors in Florida Personal Injury Lawsuits – Trapper John Animal Control v. Gilliard

Court Rules Declines to Enforce Waiver Form in Ear Piercing Injury Case – Claire’s Boutiques v. Locastro

Injured on Another Person’s Property? Liability May Depend on the Fine Print – Marler v. U-Store-It Mini Warehouse Co.