Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
In determining whether an exculpatory agreement violates public policy and is therefore void, courts recognize that public policy is not an easily defined concept. The concept embodies the common sense and common conscience of the community. Public policy is that principle of law under which freedom of contract is restricted by law for the good of the community. An exculpatory agreement will be held to contravene public policy if it is so broad that it would absolve the defendant from any injury to the plaintiff for any reason. The courts will not favor an exculpatory contract that is broad and general in its terms.
The husband was employed as a truck driver. The wife decided to ride along on trips with her husband and signed a passenger authorization form issued by the husband's employer. The form served as a general release of all claims against the employer. The wife brought a cause of action to recover for injuries she sustained while riding the truck. The court of appeals affirmed a decision granting the employer's motion for summary judgment. The court of appeals found that the agreement acted as an exculpatory contract, which was not void as contrary to public policy. The wife sought review of the judgment.
Did the form the wife executed constitute a valid exculpatory contract releasing her claims against the employer, thereby barring this lawsuit?
The supreme court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and remanded the case to the trial court. The supreme court found that the purpose of the agreement to act as an exculpatory contract was not made clear in the title of the contract. The form was designated merely as a "passenger authorization." It was not reasonably clear to the signer of the form that the document would in reality be the passenger's agreement to release the employer from liability. In addition, the release was extremely broad and all-inclusive. The exculpatory contract contravened public policy because it absolved the employer from any injury to the passenger for any reason. The contract was printed on a standardized form, which offered no opportunity for voluntary bargaining.