The law does not look with favor on contracts intended to exculpate a party from the liability of his or her own negligence although, with some exceptions, they are enforceable. However, such agreements are subject to close judicial scrutiny and are not upheld unless the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unmistakable language.
Appellant suffered decompression sickness after taking a scuba class from appellee. Appellant had signed an anticipatory release of liability, but still sued appellee under negligence principles. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Appellee. In reversing, the appellate court found that the language of the release did not demonstrate that appellant intended to accept any heightened exposure to injury caused by the malfeasance of appellee in failing to follow basic safety guidelines. Moreover, the release was a pre-printed form that appellant and appellee did not negotiate. Consequently, the release did not act to dismiss appellant's claims.
Did the court err in finding that the release excluded appellant from liability?
It was held in the case of Quinn that contracts attempting to limit the liabilities of one of the parties would not "be enforced unless the limitation is fairly and honestly negotiated and understood by both parties." In this case, Turnbough signed a pre-printed contract, the terms of which were not negotiated. Since the contract was not negotiated and contained a broad waiver of negligence provision, the terms of the contract should be strictly construed against the party seeking to enforce such a provision.