Recently, the California Court of Appeal addressed the validity of a release of liability in a lawsuit alleging negligence and premises liability against a trampoline facility. The injured plaintiff, a non-native English speaker, claimed that she had not understood she was signing a document that released all claims against the defendant. The appellate court analyzed whether the release of liability was clear, unambiguous, and explicit.
Plaintiff Diana Torres is a native Spanish speaker and testified via deposition that she could speak, read, and write in English. Defendant House of Air, LLC (HOA) is a trampoline facility in San Francisco where customers can jump or enjoy planned activities on trampolines. There are distinct areas at the facility, including a Training Ground for those hoping to improve their athletic and aerial maneuvers.
When customers use the HOA facility, they are required to sign a participant agreement. First, they sign an electronic version of the agreement, and then a staff member ensures that it has been signed. Returning customers do not sign a new agreement, but instead they proceed to the reception desk.
Ms. Torres visited HOA in May 2011. She did not ask for a translation of the participant agreement before electronically signing the document. She returned one month later and proceeded to the reception desk. After checking in, Ms. Torres and her friends were directed to the Training Ground trampoline area. One of Ms. Torres’ friends had signed them up for a board sports class, and Ms. Torres believed they would wear a harness during the class, since it was described that way on the HOA website.
After receiving instructions on a jump, Ms. Torres and her friends began to jump. Ms. Torres severely injured her leg after landing on a jump the second time. She believed her friends and she had been directed to a different trampoline than they expected because they were never offered safety equipment, and after Ms. Torres injured her leg, an HOA employee told Ms. Torres’ friend they were not in the activity for which they had paid.
Ms. Torres filed a complaint in April 2013 against HOA, alleging negligence and premises liability. HOA denied the allegations and asserted affirmative defenses, including that Ms. Torres assumed the risk of any injuries and that she signed a release from liability.
HOA then filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds that Ms. Torres’ signed release and assumption of risk were complete defenses to her claims. In response, Ms. Torres argued she did not understand what she was signing in light of her English language limitations.
After briefing, the trial court ruled that the release was clear and unambiguous and that Ms. Torres could not avoid the release by arguing she was not English proficient. Ms. Torres appealed.
The appellate court stated that a written release can exculpate a tortfeasor from future negligence. The release must be clear and explicit regarding the intent of the parties. Any ambiguity as to the scope of the release is to be construed against the drafter.
The issue before the court was whether the agreement clearly, unambiguously, and explicitly communicated the parties’ intent that Ms. Torres was releasing HOA from liability for any potential injuries she might suffer.
Reading the agreement as a whole, the court stated that HOA was clearly and unambiguously released from liability. There was a description of the potential risks of participation and a statement that HOA was being held harmless.
The appellate court rejected Ms. Torres’ claim that the word “negligence” must be contained in the provision releasing liability. Previous cases have held that including “negligence” is not required to validate an exculpatory clause. The release provision must be clear, explicit, and comprehensible in itself and when read in its entirety.
The court stated that the parties intended the release to cover injuries from HOA’s negligence. The agreement included an acknowledgement that these activities involved a risk of serious injury or death. The agreement included a statement that the release applied to any negligence on the part of the defendant.
In terms of the scope of the release, the rule is that the negligence must be reasonably related to the object of the release. In this case, the acts of negligence occurred in connection with the use of HOA’s trampoline, which was related to the purpose for which Ms. Torres signed the release.
Additionally, the court stated that the final paragraph above Ms. Torres’ signature stated that she was waiving her right to hold HOA liable for any personal injuries she might suffer. The court found this was a clear, unambiguous, and explicit release of HOA from liability.
The court affirmed the judgment of the lower court granting HOA’s motion for summary judgment.
The personal injury attorneys at Sharifi Firm represent injured California residents seeking compensation following an accident. We provide a free consultation and can be reached by calling 866-422-7222.
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