Minnesota passes language requirement for liability waivers

ARIZ (561)By Allison Eklund

Thanks to Allison for permission to republish her informative article –  © 2013 Eklund Law, PC.  

As the dust settled from the Minnesota State Legislature’s spring session, a new statute passed affecting language in liability waivers caused some ripples through the equine insurance industry but didn’t attract headline news.

Most equine businesses offering riding instruction, carriage rides, or other services are familiar with liability waivers.  These are the agreements between service providers and customers in which a customer agrees to assume the risk of accidents or injuries, and agrees not to sue the service provider for accidents.  But some agreements downloaded from the internet or written by people unfamiliar with Minnesota’s particular legal requirements for those agreements may be unenforceable.

Minnesota courts have historically construed such agreements narrowly.  In Minnesota, a waiver and release is enforceable so long as it is unambiguous, there is no disparity of bargaining power between the parties, and it does not purport to release a party from liability for intentional, willful, or wanton acts.  Beehner v. Cragun Corp., 636 N.W.2d 821 (Minn. Ct. App. 2001).  A new statutory requirement now codifies that last case-law principle.  Under Minn. Stat. § 604.055 (effective August 1, 2013), an agreement must not purport or intend to waive liability for damage, injuries, or death resulting from conduct that constitutes greater than ordinary negligence.
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To be clear in your future use of liability waivers, consider adding a phrase that references the new statute, such as, “Pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 604.055, effective August 1, 2013, nothing in this agreement purports or intends to waive liability for damage, injuries, or death resulting from conduct that constitutes greater than ordinary negligence.”[bold added]

If you’ve been using appropriate liability waivers to date, you probably already have covered that requirement, but it doesn’t hurt to say it again and reference the new statute.

As always, call me for a free consultation if you have any questions about your use of liability waivers or other agreements.  An ounce of prevention….