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Parties may expressly agree in advance that the defendant is under no obligation of care for the benefit of the plaintiff, and shall not be liable for the consequences of conduct which would otherwise be negligent; but because "public policy" disapproves of exculpating agreements in derogation of tort liability, an agreement should be so interpreted only if it is quite explicit. If the defendant seeks to use the agreement to escape responsibility for the consequences of his negligence, then it must so provide, clearly and unequivocally, as by using the word ''negligence'' itself.
On May 8, 1983, Wooten's Pic Pac Grocery in Louisa, Kentucky, was destroyed by fire. A portion of the grocery store premises consisted of a building owned by the movant, Genoa Britton (the lessor), and leased to L. Wayne Wooten d/b/a Wooten's Pic Pac and Wooten's Grocery Company, Inc. (collectively, the lessee). The movant filed suit against her lessee alleging negligence in the operation of the grocery store. Allegedly, the store employees stacked trash that was flammable, combustible material next to the building all the way up to the eaves, in violation of the fire marshal's regulations and the fire code of the State of Kentucky. Consequently, a fire originating in the trash progressed up the exterior wall to the combustible roof, causing the building to burn to the ground. The trial court entered summary judgment for the lessee, holding that the lease contracted away Britton’s right to sue the lessee for the destruction of the premises by fire. On appeal, Britton argued that the case relied upon by the lower courts could be distinguished on its facts and that the parties' lease did not contract away its right to sue if the lessee’s negligence caused or contributed to the spread of the fire.
Could the lessee be insulated from liability for negligent conduct contributing to the destruction of the leased premises?
The court vacated the trial court's judgment and reversed the intermediate court's decision affirming that judgment. The court held that neither the lease's terms nor tort law principles relating to proximate cause and superseding cause insulated the lessee from liability for negligent conduct contributing to the destruction of the leased premises. The case was remanded for further proceedings.