You may not recognize the term exculpatory clauses; however, it may surprise you to learn that you have signed dozens upon dozens (if not hundreds or thousands) of them. In fact, you may have even signed one today!
You have “agreed” to an exculpatory clause if you: (1) had a valet park your car; (2) received medical treatment of almost any kind; (3) signed a residential lease; (4) gone skydiving; (5) checked your coat in at a restaurant; (6) swam in a hotel pool; (7) used software or applications and clicked “AGREE” to the terms and conditions; (8) attended a concert; (9) gone on a cruise; and much, much more.
Exculpatory clauses are agreements that relinquish a person’s right to hold another party liable for certain (or all) wrongful conduct. These clauses were once only used in connection with inherently dangerous activities (e.g. skydiving, white-water rafting, etc.) but can now be found in a seemingly endless array of activities, consumer products, and services.
Exculpatory clauses are everywhere… but are they enforceable? (SPOILER ALERT: YES… and NO)
In this episode, I interview Professor Scott J. Burnham, the Curley Professor of Commercial Law at Gonzaga University*, and author of Contract Law for Dummies, The Contract Drafting Guidebook, and Drafting Contracts. Professor Burnham guides us through the intricacies of exculpatory clauses and helps us understand the competing societal interests of freedom to contract vs. the right to hold wrongdoers accountable for their negligent, reckless, and intentional acts and omissions.
For further reading, please see Professor Burnham’s excellent law review article on exculpatory clauses: Are You Free to Contract Away Your Right to Bring a Negligence Claim?, 89 Chicago-Kent Law Review 379 (2014). It is available at http://studentorgs.kentlaw.
* The views expressed in this podcast episode are those of Professor Burnham and not those of Gonzaga University or Gonzaga University School of Law.