By Doyice Cotten
Justice was 7 years old when he was severely injured (including multiple skull fractures, a brain hemorrhage, a post-traumatic seizure, and a traumatic brain injury) when he fell from an inflatable and struck a carpet-covered concrete floor. His mother had signed a waiver; based on the waiver, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the amusement company
Now, Justice, having reached majority age, is challenging the ruling claiming the waiver does not release the company for its own negligence.(Justice v. Marvel, LLC, 2022)
The waiver language included the following:
The waiver contained a liability release—the core provision at issue in this case was whether Sutton agreed to “release and hold harmless MARVEL, LLC … from and against any and all claims, injuries, liabilities or damages arising out of or related to our participation in any and all Pump It Up programs, activities, parties, the use of the play area and/or inflatable equipment.”
The waiver stated that the signer acknowledged the “inherent risks associated with participation in Pump It Up programs, parties, and/or use of the play area and inflatable equipment” and that she “knowingly and freely assume[d] all such risks, both known and unknown, including those that may arise out of the negligence of other participants.”
The appellate court looked at the Marvel waiver and ruled the waiver does not state whether the signer was releasing Marvel for Marvel’s own conduct, whether negligent or intentional. It said that “Where the waiver mentions negligence, it only refers to the “negligence of other participants,” not Marvel’s own negligence.” It court ruled that when the waiver is construed strictly, it does not release Marvel from its own negligence. Thus, it ruled that the summary judgment was in error and remanded the claim for further proceedings. The waiver will be reviewed as to its enforceability. There was also a question as to whether the waiver was overbroad.
The court summarized Minnesota law stating that In Minnesota, exculpatory clauses “are not favored in the law” because they “exonerat[e] a party from liability. Such provisions “will be strictly construed against the benefited party.” We have previously stated that this means that if an exculpatory “clause is either ambiguous in scope or purports to release the benefited party from liability for intentional, willful or wanton acts, it will not be enforced.” . But we have never addressed how strict construction applies when an exculpatory clause purports to release all claims of liability without specific reference to negligent acts. This question is one of first impression.
Defendants should not relax too soon, particularly when the injured party is a minor. In this case, the minor who had come of age appealed and seems well on the way to winning ten years later. For more information, you may read the entire case here.