The law frowns upon contracts intended to exculpate a party from the consequences of his own negligence and though, with certain exceptions, they are enforceable, such agreements are subject to close judicial scrutiny. To the extent that agreements purport to grant exemption for liability for willful or grossly negligent acts they have been viewed as wholly void.
Plaintiff, trainee parachutist, brought a tort claim against defendant, parachute training school owner and operator, for injuries sustained in a parachute jump. Defendant raised a release of liability signed by plaintiff as an affirmative defense. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendant, dismissing the complaint, and denied plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment to dismiss the affirmative defense. An appellate court reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant, reinstated the complaint, and granted plaintiff's summary judgment motion on the affirmative defense of release. On appeal, the court affirmed the appellate court's judgment in favor of plaintiff, holding that the release signed by plaintiff as a precondition for enrollment in the jump course did not bar him from bringing suit for personal injuries allegedly incurred as a result of defendant's negligence.
Does a release signed by the plaintiff as a precondition for his enrollment in defendant's parachute jumping course bar him from suing for personal injuries he allegedly incurred as a result of defendant's negligence?
Assuming that the language of the “Responsibility Release” alerted the plaintiff to the dangers inherent in parachute jumping and that he entered into the sport with apprehension of the risks, it does not follow that he was aware of, much less intended to accept, any enhanced exposure to injury occasioned by the carelessness of the very persons on which he depended for his safety. Specifically, the release nowhere expresses any intention to exempt the defendant from liability for injury or property damages which may result from his failure to use due care either in his training methods or in his furnishing safe equipment. Thus, whether on a running reading or a careful analysis, the agreement could most reasonably be taken merely as driving home the fact that the defendant was not to bear any responsibility for injuries that ordinarily and inevitably would occur, without any fault of the defendant, to those who participate in such a physically demanding sport.