What the term “strictly construed” actually means when used to describe how a release will be viewed by the court.Posted: July 9, 2018
The decision involves several legal issues, the one that concerns us is the issue of a release for a product. In Kansas, releases are strictly construed. In this case that meant that the language of the release did not meet the requirements of state law for a release. However, the court stretched incredibly far to come to that conclusion.
State: Kansas, United States District Court for the District of Kansas
Plaintiff: Patricia Fee
Defendant: Steve Snyder Enterprises, Inc.; Russell Young; SSE, Incorporated; Greene County Sport Parachute Center of Wellsville, Kansas, Inc.; and John Doe Corporation
Plaintiff Claims: Wrongful death and survival claims based on negligence, product liability and breach of warranty
Defendant Defenses: Statute of Limitations ran,
Holding: for the plaintiff
The lawsuit was brought over the failure of an automatic opener, which did not during a sky dive. The widow sued the manufacture of the device and the sky-diving center who sold the device to the deceased. The deceased signed a release and indemnity agreement, two separate documents when purchasing the automatic opener.
In Kansas, releases are allowed but strictly construed. Here strict construction is used, improperly, to interpret the release in an extremely narrow way to allow the lawsuit to proceed.
The deceased died when he was sky diving, and his automatic opening device failed to open. The automatic opening device was manufactured by the defendant.
The plaintiff spent eight years attempting to serve the defendant, starting in 1977 and finally serving the defendant in 1985. This lead to a discussion about when the lawsuit actually started, which takes the first half of the decision. Because the defendant had avoided service of process, because he knew about it and made attempts not to get sued, the date of the lawsuit started was the date he was served. However, due to the defendant’s actions, the statute of limitations did not run.
The widow purchased the automatic opener for the deceased, although the dates in the decision must be incorrect. The decision states the device was purchased a year after the deceased died. The device failed the first time it was used by the decedent.
The deceased signed a release for the parachute center. The defendant manufacturer raised the release as a defense to the claims of the plaintiff against the manufacture as well as those claims against the dive center.
The release was on one side of the paper and on the reverse was an assumption of risk language. The deceased also signed a separate indemnify agreement. The decedent signed both agreements.
This decision is that of the Federal District Court in Kansas.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The court first looked at release law in Kansas. If not against public policy, then Kansas recognizes exculpatory agreements, releases. However, like many state’s releases, the courts in Kansas use the language that releases “are not favored by the law and are strictly construed against the party relying on them.” Strictly construed does not require the specific term negligence but must clearly appear to express the intent to release from liability the defendant.
It is not necessary; however, that the agreement contained specific or express language covering in so many words the party’s negligence, if the intention to exculpate the party from liability clearly ap-pears from the contract, the surrounding circumstances and the purposes and objects of the parties.
The court in reading the release found it did not stop the plaintiff’s claims.
The court first in looking at the language found the language covered use of the product but did not cover liability for “sale” of the product.
First, a review of the agreement itself shows that, although it specifically releases the Parachute Center from liability for injuries or death arising out of the “ownership, operation, use, maintenance or control” of many devices,” the agreement fails to mention any release of liability revolving around the sale of any product to the parachuter.
The court admitted the deceased understood that parachuting was dangerous, that was not enough. By making the determination that the product was defective when sold, the court found the release would not stand because you cannot release liability for selling a defective product.
Strictly construing the agreement; however, we do not believe that this should be interpreted to exempt the Parachute Center from a failure to use due care in furnishing safe equipment, or should allow it to sell a product in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the parachuter. To do so would impermissibly extend the terms of the agreement to situations not plainly within its language.
The court then determined the release would also not work to stop the plaintiff’s claims for breach of either express or implied warranty. The court found attempting to release the defendant parachute center from liability was unconscionable. Under Kansas law, a release could be used to stop warranty claims, unless that was found to be unconscionable.
We, therefore, hold that plaintiff’s action is not barred by the release, covenant not to sue and indemnity clause signed by the plaintiff’s decedent. Summary judgment in favor of the defendants Parachute Center and Russell Young is therefore, inappropriate.
The indemnification agreement seemed to be ignored in reaching this determination by the court.
So Now What?
Strict construction is a term that gives leeway to a court to review the language of the release to make sure it conforms to the language required under state law. However, that term was created and applied to release’s decades ago and rarely used now except in rare situations like this. When the judge wants the defendant to pay.
Probably the term was created when courts were first asked to apply releases to a plaintiff’s claims and wanted a way to soften the blow. Now days, in most states it is quoted in the decision at the beginning and never heard of again. Eventually if the courts review enough releases, the term is not even quoted.
Few states allow a release to be used to stop product liability claims. However, several states do and several states allow assumption of risk to stop product liability claims. A well-written release that incorporates assumption of risk language is still effective in many product liability cases.
Here, however, the court reached as far as it could to find that the release was barred from stopping the claims. Part of that desire to allow the suit to proceed was probably because of the actions of the manufacturer who spend eight years avoiding service of the lawsuit.
The rest, however, was simply a stretch to allow the lawsuit to proceed.
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Patricia Fee, Plaintiff, v. Steve Snyder Enterprises, Inc.; Russell Young; SSE, Incorporated; Greene County Sport Parachute Center of Wellsville, Kansas, Inc.; and John Doe Corporation, Defendants
CIVIL ACTION No. 84-2323
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF KANSAS
1986 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28158
March 14, 1986
CORE TERMS: parachute, sport, summary judgment, decedent, personally, covenant, implied warranties, statute of limitations, service of process, mail service, notice, mail, parachuting, personal injury, personal service, parachuter, consumer, assigns, wrongful death, strict liability, territorial limits, unconscionable, consequential, predecessor, disclaimer, diversity, automatic, warranty, opening, saving
COUNSEL: [*1] John E. McKay, LAW OFFICES OF BENSON & McKAY, 911 Main Street, Suite 1430, Kansas City, Missouri 64105, (816) 842-7604; Mark R. Singer/Micheline Z. Burger ROMAIN, BURGER & SINGER, CHTD., The College View Building, 4500 College Blvd., Suite 103, Overland Park, Kansas 66221, (913)649-5224; Paul v. Herbers, James E. Cooling, Cooling, Herbers & Sears, P.C., P.O. Box 26770, Kansas City, MO 64196, (816) 474-0770; Russell C. Leffel, 7315 Frontage Road, Suite 111, Shawnee Mission, KS 66204, 913-362-9727, Neal E. Millert, Larry J. Tyrl, James, Millert, Houdek, Tyrl & Sommers, 804 Bryant Building, 1102 Grand, Kansas City, Missouri 64106, Randolph G. Austin, Speer, Austin, Holliday, & Ruddick, 261 N. Cherry, P.O. Box 1000, Olathe, Kansas 66061.
OPINION BY: O’CONNOR
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
EARL E. O’CONNOR, CHIEF JUDGE.
This matter is before the court on defendants’ motions for summary judgment and plaintiff’s motion for costs. This is a diversity action for wrongful death and survivorship based on claims of negligence, strict liability and breach of express and implied warranties.
I. Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendant SSE, Incorporated.
Defendant SSE, Incorporated, moves for [*2] summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff’s action is barred by the two-year statute of limitations found at K.S.A. 60-513(a). For the following reasons, defendant’s motion must be denied.
[HN1] Summary judgment is appropriate when the matters considered by the court disclose that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c). The court must look at the record in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Prochaska v. Marcoux, 632 F.2d 848, 850 (10th Cir. 1980), cert. denied, 451 U.S. 984 (1981). Before summary judgment may be granted, the moving party must establish that it is entitled to summary judgment beyond a reasonable doubt. Ellis v. El Paso Natural Gas Co., 754 F.2d 884, 885 (10th Cir. 1985).
The uncontroverted facts relevant to this motion are as follows:
1. The plaintiff’s decedent died while skydiving on December 11, 1982, when his parachute failed to open. Decedent’s parachute was equipped with an automatic opening device, which was manufactured by the defendant SSE, Incorporated.
2. Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on August 13, [*3] 1984, consisting of wrongful death and survival claims based on negligence, product liability and breach of warranty. Plaintiff named Steve Snyder Enterprises, Inc., as a defendant, claiming that it was a Pennsylvania corporation that designed, manufactured and sold the defective device.
3. On August 14, 1984, the complaint was mailed to Steve Snyder Enterprises, Inc., at a New Jersey address.
4. Steve Snyder Enterprises, Inc., had changed its name to “SSE, Incorporated,” in November of 1977. Its corporate headquarters, however, remained at the same location.
5. SSE, Incorporated, received the complaint at the New Jersey address.
6. ln a telephone conversation with plaintiff’s counsel, the attorney for SSE, Incorporated, advised plaintiff’s counsel that neither SSE nor its predecessor corporation, Steve Snyder Enterprises, Inc., would accept service by mail.
7. On November 1, 1984, counsel for SSE, Incorporated, rated, wrote to plaintiff’s counsel, again informing him that SSE intended not to acknowledge the mail service.
8. On November 14, 1984, the complaint was again mailed to Steve Snyder Enterprises, Inc. SEE, Incorporated, received the complaint, but refused to sign or [*4] return an acknowledgement.
9. On December 7, 1984, plaintiff filed her first amended complaint, adding SSE, Incorporated, as a defendant.
10. From January 1985 to August 28, 1985, plaintiff’s process servers made thirty-three attempts to personally serve SSE, Incorporated.
11. On August 29, 1985, plaintiff successfully served Steve Snyder, the registered agent and president of SSE, Incorporated.
Defendant SSE, Incorporated, argues that summary judgment is appropriate on all of plaintiff’s claims because they are barred by the two-year statute of limitations for wrongful death actions set forth at K.S.A. 60-513(a)(5). The court notes, however, that not all of plaintiff’s claims are for wrongful death — Counts VI through VIII are survival actions based on negligence, strict liability and breach of express and implied warranties. Nevertheless, a similar two-year statute of limitations (see K.S.A. 60-13(a)(4)) applies to the negligence, strict liability and breach of warranty claims. See Grey v. Bradford-White Corp., 581 F.Supp. 725 (D. Kan. 1984). The court will therefore treat defendant’s motion as seeking summary judgment on all of plaintiff’s claims and not merely plaintiff’s [*5] wrongful death claims.
To decide whether plaintiff’s claims are barred by the two-year statute of limitations, we must first determine when plaintiff’s suit was commenced. [HN2] In a diversity action, the court must apply the state law prescribing when an action commences for statute of limitations purposes rather than Rule 3 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Walker v. Armco Steel Corp., 446 U.S. 740 (1980); Ragan v. Merchants Transfer & Warehouse Company, 337 U.S. 530 (1949). [HN3] Kansas law provides that an action is commenced at the time a petition is filed if service of process is obtained within ninety days. See K.S.A. 60-203(a)(1). If service is not obtained during the 90-day period, then the action is commenced at the time of service. Id.
Defendant argues that plaintiff’s action did not com- mence until August 29, 1985, when plaintiff personally served the agent of SSE, Incorporated, Steve Snyder. Accordingly, since plaintiff’s cause of action arose on December 11, 1982, her claims are barred by the two-year statute of limitations. We are not persuaded by defendant’s argument.
We conclude that plaintiff’s action was timely commenced under the saving provisions [*6] of K.S.A. 60-203(b). That section provides:
[HN4] If service of process or first publication purports to have been made within the time specified by subsection (a)(1) but is later adjudicated to have been invalid due to any irregularity in form or procedure or any defect in making service, the action shall nevertheless be deemed to have been commenced by the original filing of the petition if valid service is obtained or first publication is made within 90 days after that adjudication, except that the court may extend that time an additional 30 days upon a showing of good cause by the plaintiff.
Applying this statute to the facts in this case, we find that plaintiff purported to serve process by mail on August 14, 1984, only one day after the suit was filed. Service by mail is proper under a recent amendment to the Kansas Code of Civil Procedure. 1
See K.S.A. 60-314 (Supp. 1985). We find, however, that plaintiff’s service was invalid due to the defendant’s failure to complete and return the enclosed notice. Under the saving provision of section 60-203(b), we may nevertheless deem plaintiff’s action to have been commenced on the date plaintiff’s complaint was filed, [*7] so long as plaintiff makes personal service on the defendant within ninety days of this order.
1 We must look to the Kansas law prescribing the method of service. This is a diversity action in which plaintiff asserts jurisdiction over the defendant pursuant to the Kansas long-arm statute, K.S.A. 60-308. Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(f) provides that “process other than a subpoena may be served anywhere within the territorial limits of the state in which the district court is held, and when authorized by a statute of the United States or by these rules, beyond the territorial limits of that state.” There is no applicable federal statute that would allow service of process outside the state in this case. Thus, in order to obtain service beyond the territorial limits of the court, there must be authorization in “these rules.” Rule 4(e) provides for service of process on defendants who are not inhabitants of or found within the state. In pertinent part it states:
Whenever a statute or rule of court of the state in which the district is held provides (1) for service of a summons, or of a notice, or of an order in lieu of summons upon a party not an inhabitant of or found within the state, . . . service may . . . be made under the circumstances and in the manner prescribed in the [state] statute or rule.
Clearly, service by mail is a “manner” of service provided by the Kansas statute in this situation. See K.S.A. 60-314 (Supp. 1985).
[*8] Defendant also argues that because plaintiff’s mail service was directed to Steve Snyder Enterprises, Inc., rather than to SSE, Incorporated, it was totally ineffective. We find defendant’s argument meritless for two reasons. First, under the saving provision discussed above, plaintiff’s mistake in naming defendant’s predecessor corporation qualifies as a defect in the service that may be remedied by plaintiff reserving the defendant under its proper name within ninety days of this order. Second, [HN5] both the federal rules (Rule 15(c)) and Kansas law (K.S.A. 60-215(c)) allow for relation back of an amendment changing a party. Under these provisions, [HN6] a change in party relates back so long as the claim asserted arose out of the events set forth in the original complaint and
within the period provided by law for commencing the action against him, the party to be brought in by amendment (1) has received such notice of the institution of the action that he will not be prejudiced in maintaining his defense on the merits, and (2) knew or should have known that, but for a mistake concerning the identity of the proper party, the action would have been brought against him.
Federal Rule [*9] of Civil Procedure 15(c); K.S.A. 60-215(c).
In this case, an amendment changing defendant’s name from Steve Snyder Enterprises, Inc., to SSE, Incorporated, would clearly relate back. First, the claims asserted would be identical to those originally filed. Second, SSE, Incorporated, admits it had notice of this action within the statutory period. Counsel for SSE, Incorporated, informed plaintiff’s counsel in August and November of 1984 that SSE had received the mail service but chose not to acknowledge it. Third, SSE, Incorporated, knew that but for plaintiff’s confusion over the name of its predecessor corporation, the action would have been brought against it.
We therefore hold that plaintiff shall have ninety (90) days from the date of this order to personally serve the defendant SSE, Incorporated. Upon such service, plaintiff’s action will be deemed to have commenced on August 13, 1984, when the case was filed. Plaintiff’s claims will therefore be timely. If, however, plaintiff fails to serve SSE, Incorporated, within the 90-day time period, plaintiff’s action against this defendant will be deemed time-barred. Defendant’s motion for summary judgment will therefore be held in abeyance [*10] for ninety days from the date of this order to allow plaintiff to properly serve the defendant.
II. Plaintiff’s Motion for Costs.
Plaintiff moves for payment of the costs incurred in plaintiff’s previous attempts to personally serve defendant. [HN7] Costs are available pursuant to both Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(c)(2)(D) and K.S.A. 60-314:
Unless good cause is shown for not doing so the court shall order the payment of the costs of personal service by the person served if such person does not complete and return within 20 days after mailing, the notice and acknowledgment of receipt of summons.
Defendant in this case has shown no reason why costs should not be assessed against it. Defendant deliberately refused to acknowledge mail service and even went so far as to inform plaintiff that it was electing to assert its “right to service of process in the customary manner and not by mail.” Defendant’s Exhibit 4. Not only did defendant refuse mail service, but it also made every attempt to thwart personal service. Plaintiff was thus forced to attempt service at least thirty-three times against defendant. We therefore hold that plaintiff is entitled to recover costs in [*11] the amount of $1,628.47 as requested in her motion. Furthermore, plaintiff will be entitled to recover costs incurred in serving the defendant again, as discussed in part I above, upon plaintiff’s submission of proof of expenses.
III. Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendants Russell Young and Greene County Sport Parachute Center.
Defendant Russell Young moves for summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff’s decedent signed a release and covenant not to sue in favor of Greene County Sport Parachute Center of Wellsville, Kansas, Inc. (hereinafter the Parachute Center), and its employees and agents. The Parachute Center joins in said motion.
The material uncontroverted facts are as follows:
1. On May 8, 1982, plaintiff’s decedent signed a “Release and Covenant Not To Sue,” which read in pertinent part:
[I] do hereby fully and forever release and discharge the said Greene County Sport Parachute Center of Wellsville, Kansas, Inc. and their employees, servants, stockholders, agents, successors, assigns, and all other persons whomsoever directly or indirectly liable, from any and all other claims and demands, actions and cause of action, damages, costs, loss of services, [*12] expenses and any and all other claims of damages whatsoever, resulting from PERSONAL INJURIES, DEATH OR PROPERTY DAMAGES SUSTAINED BY ME, arising out of AIRCRAFT FLIGHTS, PARACHUTE JUMPS, or any other means of lift, ascent or descent from an aircraft of any nature, or arising out of the ownership, operation, use, maintenance or control of any vehicle, whether motor vehicle, aircraft, or otherwise, or any device, or mooring, while on the ground or in flight, and meaning and intending to include herein all such PERSONAL INJURIES, DEATH OR PROPERTY DAMAGE resulting from or in any way connected with or arising out of instructions, training, and ground or air operations incidental thereto.
This release and covenant not to sue is made and entered in consideration of the permission extended to me by Greene County Sport Parachute Center of Wellsville, Kansas, Inc. to participate in a course of parachuting instructions, parachuting training flying activities, ground or air operations incidental to parachuting and flying.
I further acknowledge that I will not rely on any oral or written representation of Greene County Sports Parachute Center of Wellsville, Kansas, Inc. or any agent thereof. [*13] I fully understand that there are dangerous risks in the sport of parachute jumping, and I assume said risks. . . .
I HAVE READ AND FULLY UNDERSTAND that Release and Covenant Not to Sue and sign the same as my own free act.
2. Plaintiff’s decedent also signed an “Indemnity Clause,” which read:
I acknowledge that Greene County Sport Parachute Center of Wellsville, Ks., Inc., is not an insurer of me. I do, for myself, my heirs, executors, administrators and assigns, hereby expressly stipulate, covenant and agree to indemnify and hold forever harmless the said Greene County Sport Parachute Center of Wellsville, Ks., Inc., and its employees, servants, stockholders, agents, successors, and assigns, and all other persons whomsoever against and from any and all actions, causes of action, claims and demands for damages, judgments, executions, costs, loss of services, expenses, compensation, including reimbursement of all legal costs and reasonable counsel fees incurred or paid by the said indemnified parties or any of them, for the investigation, prosecution or defense of any such action, cause of action or claim or demand for damages, and any and all other claims for damages, whatsoever, [*14] which may hereafter arise, or be instituted or recovered against said Greene County Sport Parachute Center of Wellsville, Ks., Inc., and its servants, employees, stockholders, agents, successors, assigns or any other person or persons whomsoever, by me or by any other person whomsoever, whether for the purpose of making or enforcing a claim for damages, on account of PERSONAL INJURIES, DEATH, OR PROPERTY DAMAGE sustained by me, or whether for the purpose of enforcing a claim for damages of any nature by any person whomsoever, on account of, or in any way resulting therefrom.
3. The decedent signed both the clause and release and certified that he had read them. His signature was witnessed by defendant Russell Young, President of the Parachute Center.
4. On the reverse side of the release, the decedent also signed and certified the following statements:
(9) I understand there are potential dangers and risks involved in this sport and acknowledge that the training I have received is intended to minimize such but is no guarantee or representation that there are none.
(10) I understand that parachuting is a potentially dangerous sport and that the proper functions of these parachutes [*15] or any parachute cannot be and is not guaranteed.
5. The decedent ordered and promised to pay for an automatic parachute opening device from the defendants Parachute Center and Russell Young. Young delivered the device to the decedent in December 1982.
6. The decedent used the device for the first time while skydiving on December 11, 1982. His parachute failed to open, he fell to the ground and was fatally injured.
7. The decedent’s widow paid the Parachute Center $254.60 for the device on January 27, 1983.
[HN8] Kansas courts have long recognized the validity of exculpatory agreements relieving a party from liability unless it would be against the settled public policy to do so. See, e.g., Belger Cartage Service, Inc. v. Holland Construction Co., 224 Kan. 320, 329, 582 P.2d 1111, 1118 (1978); Hunter v. American Rentals, 189 Kan. 615, 617, 371 P.2d 131, 133 (1962). Exculpatory contracts, however, “are not favored by the law and are strictly construed against the party relying on them.” Cason v. Geis Irrigation Co., 211 Kan. 406, 411, 507 P.2d 295, 299 (1973). Accord. Belger, 224 Kan. at 329, 582 P.2d at 1119. The terms of the agreement are not to be extended to [*16] situations not plainly within the language employed. Baker v. City of Topeka, 231 Kan. 328, 334, 644 P.2d 441, 446 (1982); Missouri Pacific Railroad Co. v. City of Topeka, 213 Kan. 658, 664, 518 P.2d 372, 377 (1973). It is not necessary, however, that the agreement contain specific or express language covering in so many words the party’s negligence, if the intention to exculpate the party from liability clearly appears from the contract, the surrounding circumstances and the purposes and objects of the parties. Bartlett v. Davis Corp., 219 Kan. 148, 159, 547 P.2d 800, 806 (1976).
After reviewing the language of the contract and the totality of the circumstances to determine the intent of these parties, we conclude that the release and indemnity clause do not preclude plaintiff’s action. First, a review of the agreement itself shows that, although it specifically releases the Parachute Center from liability for injuries or death arising out of the “ownership, operation, use, maintenance or control” of many device,” the agreement fails to mention any release of liability revolving around the sale of any product to the parachuter. Granted, there is a paragraph in [*17] which the parachuter states that he understands that parachuting is a potentially dangerous sport and that the proper function of the parachute cannot be guaranteed. Strictly construing the agreement, however, we do not believe that this should be interpreted to exempt the Parachute Center from a failure to use due care in furnishing safe equipment, or should allow it to sell a product in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the parachuter. To do so would impermissibly extend the terms of the agreement to situations not plainly within its language.
Other courts have held that similar releases exempt parachute centers and trainers only from injuries that ordinarily occur without any fault of the defendant. See Diedrich v. Wright, 550 F.Supp. 805 (N.D. Ill. 1982); Gross v. Sweet, 49 N.Y.2d 102, 424 N.Y.S.2d 65, 400 N.E.2d 306 (Ct.App. 1979). We agree with these courts that the language alerting the parachuter to the dangers in parachute jumping is used to drive home to the individual that he must enter into this sport with an apprehension of the risks inherent in the nature of the sport. See 550 F.Supp. at 808; 49 N.Y.2d at
, 424 N.Y.S.2d at 369, 400 [*18] N.E.2d at It does not, however, follow that he must accept enhanced exposure to injury or death based on the carelessness of the defendants in selling him a defective product or failing to warn him about its use.
Furthermore, we hold that the release was ineffective under Kansas law to limit liability for a breach of either an express or implied warranty. [HN9] With respect to disclaimer of express warranties, K.S.A. 84-2-719(3) provides:
Consequential damages may be limited or excluded unless the limitation or exclusion is unconscionable. Limitation of consequential damages for injury to the person in the case of consumer goods is prima facie unconscionable but limitation of damages where the loss is commercial is not.
In this case, the automatic opening device qualifies as a consumer good under K.S.A. 84-9-109. Under section 84-2-719(3), the defendants’ attempt to exclude consequential damages for personal injury was unconscionable and therefore unenforceable.
Furthermore, with respect to disclaimer of implied warranties of merchantability, [HN10] the Kansas Consumer Protection Act flatly prohibits in consumer cases the use of any limitation on remedies or liability for implied [*19] warranties, and declares that any such disclaimers are void. K.S.A. 50-639(a) and (e). See also id. at 84-2-719 (Kansas Comment).
We therefore hold that plaintiff’s action is not barred by the release, covenant not to sue and indemnity clause signed by plaintiff’s decedent. Summary judgment in favor of the defendants Parachute Center and Russell Young is therefore inappropriate.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that defendants’ motion for summary judgment by Russell Young and Greene County Sport Parachute Center of Wellsville, Kansas, Inc., is denied.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that defendant’s motion for summary judgment by SSE, Incorporated, shall be held in abeyance until plaintiff obtains personal service upon SSE, Incorporated. Plaintiff shall have ninety (90) days from the date of this order to personally serve SSE, Incorporated. If plaintiff fails to so serve the defendant, defendant’s motion for summary judgment will be granted.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that plaintiff’s motion for costs to personally serve the defendant SSE, Incorporated, in the amount of $1,628.47, is granted.
Dated this 14th May of March, 1986, at Kansas City, Kansas.
All outdoor recreation, travel, tourism and fitness businesses use a release, (or should use a release). However, the legal description of what is a release is rarely explained to the business clients using them or the clients of the business signing them.
A Release is also known as Waiver. Some parts of the country also use the term Covenant Not to Sue to identify the clause in a release that prevents lawsuits. The Negligence Clause is another term for the actual part of the contract that prevents the possible lawsuit. Therefore, in most cases the term Release, Waiver or Covenant Not to Sue are interchangeable and have more of a geographic definition rather than a different legal definition.
Release is the word that is adopted as the term to describe the types of agreements we are discussing here by the majority of states. Waiver and covenant not to sue are used by a few southern states to describe these documents.
A release is a contract. A contract is an agreement between two or more parties, with consideration flowing to both parties and a meeting of the minds as to the terms of the contract. Contracts cannot be for illegal activities or things and most be enforceable by the courts.
Contracts are the basis for commerce in the world; how one party sells goods or services and the other party buys goods or services.
There must be two and can be thousands of parties to a contract. Each party must receive something of value or benefit. Each party must understand the basic terms of the contract. Not every term must be known or understood in the contract.
Consideration, the benefit or value in a contract, is easily defined as money, and in most contacts makes up one part of the transaction. With a local shopkeeper, a contact to buy a t-shirt consists of consideration (money) flowing to the shopkeeper and the purchaser receiving the t-shirt. Both parties knew the terms of the contract and both understood that was the purpose of the contract. The contract by the way was oral. Contracts can be in writing or can be oral. Oral contacts are hard to prove in a court.
In an outdoor recreation case, the consideration is money flowing to the outfitter and the opportunity to engage in the activity by the guest.
Contracts cannot be for illegal activities. Gambling debts are not enforceable in most states so a contract to pay a gambling debt is illegal. Most states, but not all, have done away with contracts for marriage also. (Marriage is not illegal, just to contract for a marriage is illegal.) Courts are reluctant to force people to act or do something specific such as standing on their head as an easy example.
A release then is a contract that covers something that may or may not happen in the future. It is the fact that the contract may not actually be enforced because of some future date that gives releases their special place in the law.
A release is also different from most contracts because the release is a contract where one party gives up or releases a future right, the right to sue. This possibility of giving up a future right is one of the issues that courts are divided on and that cause courts problems. The right is the right to sue, a right that is given to US citizens in our constitution. As such, the courts scrutinize any constitutional right that is given up by a party. However, most courts have agreed that if the right is in writing and voluntarily given up for consideration, the release will be upheld. The right to contract between parties is greater and more important than the right to sue in most, but not all state supreme courts.
As stated earlier, contracts can be oral or written. Because a future right is at stake in releases, most courts will not enforce an oral release, such as reading the release over the phone to someone and having them agree to the terms of the release. At the same time, you should review electronic contracts and agreements, which are valid.
Release law is determined by each state; as such, it is difficult to define a release in an article written for the masses because of the different requirements of some states. In addition, some states have different requirements or statutory requirements for releases in some activities or recreational sports then other. Also, states are changing their stands on releases each year. Wisconsin, Arizona and Connecticut have done so in the past couple of years.
However, there are some general issues common to all releases and required in most states that support releases.
A release should use the magic word negligence. Negligence is the legal term for an accident that gives rise to a lawsuit. The release should state that your guests release you from any negligence on your part. Lacking this term, your release is a piece of paper with little value in the majority of states.
The second most important clause is the jurisdiction and venue clause. This clause defines the law of the state that will be applied to the case to interpret the release and the place where the lawsuit will be held. Your state law may uphold releases. However, your customer maybe from a state that does not support releases. Jurisdiction and venue clauses prevent your customer from dragging you into a different state and voiding your release.
The signature is also critical. For someone to sue on a breach of contract or to enforce a contract, the person who is being sued or the release that is being enforced must be signed. Therefore, the injured guest is the person who must sign the contract to have the release enforced. It is not necessary to witness the signature. The date and time of the accident along with the type of payment, usually a credit card will confirm the person was there and signed a release. In addition, handwriting experts can verify a signature.
Initialing paragraphs is also of no value and may cause problems. The courts look for a signature and nothing else. It does not matter to the courts if the release has been read. Initialing paragraphs may create a problem if one paragraph is not initialed. Does that mean that paragraph does not apply? Nor has the author ever found a case where the court commented on the initialed paragraphs as being necessary or important.
Initials, however, may be necessary if the paper that is being used has different contracts on it. The classic is a car rental contract. Part of the contract is a release and a promise to pay. That gets a signature. Declining additional insurance or promising to bring the car back full of gas are different contracts and as such initials might help prove those parts of the contract. However, if your document is one or two pieces of paper with one purpose and no white spaces or added information, you only need a signature.
There is a real difference of opinions between some attorneys as to the need to identify the risks of the activity. Most activities have so many possible risks that the release would be endless if it listed them all. However, there are two valid reasons for putting at least some of the possible risks in a release. The release has better “legal balance” if some of the risks are listed. It provides a background or a basis for the release if the document states some of the reasons for the reason behind the release. Courts always comment that the injury the plaintiff is complaining about was listed in the release.
A release with risks in it can also be used as assumption of the risk document. If the release is thrown out, the release can be used to prove the person assumed the risks and either eliminate a lawsuit or reduce the damages. For this to work, the risks of the activity must be in the release.
Because of state and federal laws concerning a release of medical information and the possibility of an injury, you should probably include a release for first aid care and release of medical information. Although federal HIPPA laws may not affect you, many states medical information privacy acts may. First aid negligence lawsuits rare, but they occur occasionally and are very dangerous. As such, you should include a release for any medical care you provide and any medical information you collect or pass on to other people.
There are dozens of other factors and clauses that may need to be included in your release. These are going to be dependent the state that is identified in your jurisdiction and venue clause, any state statutes that control releases or state laws that control the activity that the release covers. The type of activity you are providing, the guests you are recruiting and how close medical care is, may also change your release. Finally, any release for activities outside of the US must be written carefully.
Any article about releases always ends with a disclaimer and an admonition. The disclaimer is releases work in most states. However, release law changes every month. New state statures or Supreme Court justices can change the law affecting releases and subsequently your business.
The admonition is your release must be written by an attorney. The easiest example of this admonition is the courts. Releases written by attorneys are rarely contested in court. The releases you see in appellate and Supreme Court decisions are always those written by non-attorneys. The attorney you choose should also be one that understands release law and your business to give you the best chance at staying out of court.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
© 2010 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law, Recreaton.Law@Gmail.com
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