Delaware Supreme Court decision quickly determines a health club release is not void because of public policy issues and is clear and unequivocal.Posted: July 18, 2016
The decision is very short and very clear. Write a clear and direct release and it will be upheld in Delaware.
State: Delaware, Supreme Court of Delaware
Plaintiff: Deshaun Ketler and Brittany Ketler
Defendant: PFPA, LLC, a Delaware Corporation, d/b/a Planet Fitness
Plaintiff Claims: negligence
Defendant Defenses: Release
Holding: For the defendant
This is a Delaware Supreme Court decision on release law in Delaware from a lawsuit against a health club.
The plaintiff sued the defendant Planet Fitness because she was injured at the health club, a cable broke on a seated rowing machine she was using.
The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings finding the release stopped the claims of the plaintiff. The plaintiff appealed.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The Delaware Supreme Court did not waste a single sentence in this very short very instructive decision.
Releases are valid in Delaware. They must be clear and unequivocal if a release is to be valid.
This Court has previously recognized that a release of prospective negligence may be valid. Such a release must be “‘clear and unequivocal’ to insulate a party from liability
The court looked to the language of the release, and without comment stated the language was clear and unequivocal. The court then looked at the other issues that may void a release.
The release may not be unconscionable.
Unconscionability is a concept that is used sparingly. Traditionally, an unconscionable contract is one which “no man in his senses and not under delusion would make on the one hand, and as no honest or fair man would accept, on the other.”
Unconscionable in Delaware means more than a just a disparity between the party’s ability to bargain. There must be no real choice for the party being offered the release or agreement.
But mere disparity between the bargaining powers of parties to a contract will not support a finding of unconscionability.” “[T]here must be an absence of meaningful choice and contract terms unreasonably favorable to one of the parties.” There is no deprivation of meaningful choice if a party can walk away from the contract. Here, DeShaun was free to accept the Planet Fitness membership or not. The Superior Court did not err in concluding that the release is not unconscionable.
Because the plaintiff was not being forced to sign the contract and a health club contract was not a necessity, the plaintiff could have walked away from the release. Thus the release was not unconscionable.
The next issue was whether the release violated public policy. In Delaware to violate public policy, there must be a statute specifically saying that a release for this activity violates public policy.
The public policy of this state is typically determined by the Delaware General Assembly. No Delaware statute has been identified which bears on the validity of a release of prospective negligence.
The statute must not only look at the issues identified in the release, but must specifically say a release is void for these issues.
However, a general release by its nature releases a party from a potential liability otherwise imposed by law. The public policy involved must be one which disapproves of the release.
The judgement of the lower court was affirmed.
So Now What?
There is very little instructional language in this decision. However, what information is provided is very clear and very easy to understand. Releases in Delaware if they are clear and unequivocal will be upheld in the state.
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