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Releases work for exercise programs when a mall, for free, opens up early to help people age in Massachusetts

Any exception to a release in Massachusetts must be specifically identified in the release. This means that if a plaintiff wants to argue the release does not apply to “this” which caused my injury; “this” must be identified as something the release does not apply to.

Bastable v. Liberty Tree Mall Limited Partnership, 6 Mass. L. Rep. 217; 1996 Mass. Super. LEXIS 64

State: Massachusetts; Superior Court of Massachusetts, at Middlesex

Plaintiff: Rosamond Bastable

Defendant: Liberty Tree Mall Limited Partnership

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: release

Holding: for the Defendant

Year: 1996

Outdoor recreation normally does not cover walking indoors; however, it is an important component for a lot of former recreationists (and it is probably in all of our futures). In this case, the local hospital and the mall teamed up to offer seniors the opportunity to exercise indoors in the mall before it opened.

On September 12, 1993, Bastable enrolled in the “STEPPIN’ OUT!” walking program sponsored by Liberty Tree Mall and Beverly Hospital. The program permitted people in the community to walk in the mall for exercise each day prior to the mall opening to the public. In order to participate in the program, Bastable was required to sign a release.

While exciting the mall one day after walking, the plaintiff fell. The plaintiff argued cracked tile caused her fall and injuries. She sued, and the court dismissed her complaint based on the release.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The first issue addressed by the court was the issue of validity of releases in Massachusetts. Releases are valid in Massachusetts.

The release Bastable signed was a valid and lawful waiver. “There is no rule of general application that a person cannot contract for exemption from liability for his own negligence. Moreover, a release which allocates risk is not against public policy.

In an effect to have the release not apply to the plaintiff’s injuries; she argued the release only applied to “general maintenance activities,’ which she described as now removal and landscaping. The plaintiff’s injuries did not arise from that general maintenance but from specific failed maintenance issues. Meaning the release was written for water on the floor rather than a tile the needed repaired. However, that did not work.

Bastable does not allege that the release was unlawful; rather, she claims that the release applies only to injuries caused by general maintenance activities (such as snow removal and landscaping) and that her injury did not arise from these activities.

Under Massachusetts law, releases are to be interpreted broadly if the language of the release is comprehensive in nature. Any exception to a release must be specifically identified in the release as an exception. “Additionally, Massachusetts courts have held that if the parties intend that an exception to a general release exists, they must include that exception in the release.”

Meaning if the drafters and parties to the release wanted a broadly written comprehensive release not to cover a specific issue or possible risk, it must be identified in the release as not being covered in the release.

If Liberty had intended to limit its liability to only those accidents arising from maintenance tasks, it would have specifically stated so in its release. Instead, the release holds Liberty harmless for “any . . . injury that may take place on mall property” whether or not it results from a maintenance activity.

Because the damaged tile or this type of maintenance was not identified in the release as not being covered by the release, the release prevented the suit for those issues also.

The defendant won this case because the release was written broadly enough to cover all issues.

So Now What?

A policy under release law would eliminate numerous arguments made by plaintiff’s that the release did not affect their claim because their claim was not specifically or generally contemplated by the release. Here, the courts said the release was written broadly, and that breadth covered your injuries.

This is not something can be easily changed in a state, as it is a court policy decided over the years. However, it is possibly an issue that should be brought up and argued in release cases so courts understand it should be an issue they review.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

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