Minnesota Supreme Court Holds Exculpatory Clause Unenforceable

Minnesota Supreme Court Holds Exculpatory Clause Unenforceable

The Minnesota Supreme Court recently found an exculpatory clause in a recreational liability waiver unenforceable. In 2007, a seven-year-old boy attended a birthday party at Pump It Up Parties, owned by Marvel, LLC. The mother signed a liability waiver on her son’s behalf which contained a clause that purported to provide a blanket release and hold harmless the event sponsor. The waiver further stated that the mother “acknowledged the inherent risks” and knowingly and freely assumed them.

While at the party, the boy fell, and hit his head and suffered several injuries. When the boy turned 18, he sued Marvel, which immediately moved for summary judgment based, in part, on the waiver. The boy argued the waiver was void as against public policy. The district court granted Marvel summary judgment based upon the exculpatory clause, and the court of appeals affirmed.

The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed, finding the exculpatory clause could not withstand strict construction. The court held such an exculpatory clause must use “specific and express language that unequivocally states the contracting parties’ intent, even if the provision is so broad it necessarily includes the released parties own negligence.”  Here the release language would include any and all claims, including those for its own negligence.

The mother signed the waiver and acknowledged the inherent risks involved with inflatables and assumed those risks “including those that may arise out of the negligence of other participants.” But the exculpatory clause did not specifically state that the mother released the party sponsor from liability from its own negligent acts. Thus, the court held under strict construction that the waiver did not fairly apprise the mother “in clear and unequivocal language” that she was releasing Marvel from its own negligence, notwithstanding the broad language in the exculpatory clause.

This decision is further evidence in our view that exculpatory clauses are increasingly disfavored in Minnesota. Contact our office to ensure that your contract provisions are up to date and consistent with the intentions of the parties.

Justice v. Marvel, 979 N.W.2d 894 (2022).