Sunny Florida is choc full of beach resorts, meaning there is just about an endless number of ways to enjoy the sand and the sun. Like anywhere else, however, accidents can occur at these vacation destinations. In Hackett v. Grand Seas Resort Owners' Association, Florida's Fifth District Court of Appeal takes on a case concerning an accident at a resort, limiting the extent to which the property owner can shield itself from liability through what is called an "exculpatory clause."
Richard Hackett owns a time share at Grand Seas Resort in Daytona Beach. He was injured in an accident at the resort when the leg of a chair he was sitting on outside of his unit collapsed. Hackett sued the resort's owners' association for negligence in state court.
The owners' association moved for summary judgment, claiming that a "Guest License Agreement" signed by Hackett included an exculpatory clause, shielding the association from liability in the event of injury. In part, the agreement read: "Management ...will not be responsible for accidents or injury to guests..." The trial court sided with the association, granting summary judgment in its favor.
On appeal, the Fifth District reversed the decision, ruling that the clause was ambiguous and therefore not enforceable. The court explained that exculpatory clauses, which seek to remove liability in advance of an accident or injury, "are disfavored and thus enforceable only to the extent that the intention to be relieved from liability is made clear and unequivocal." In other words, the language must make clear to the individual signing exactly what rights to recovery he or she is forfeiting.
Here, the clause's reference to "accidents," was far too ambiguous to also include negligence claims, according to the court. "An accident may simply be the result of bad luck or clumsiness, or it might refer to an injury caused by a third party who is not a signatory to the agreement," the court said, giving the example of two guests bumping into one another in the resort parking lot. Negligence, meanwhile, is a legal term imposing liability and referring to a person or entity's duty of care.
The Court also noted that the clause purports to remove liability for "Management." It does not specifically include the association, the legal entity that owns the resort.
The Court reversed the trial court's summary judgment ruling and remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.
It should be noted that the Court's ruling does not necessarily mean that Hackett will ultimately win his case, but it certainly removes a rather large obstacle in his path to victory. As this case makes clear, there are a wide variety of Florida personal injury law issues to be considered when suing for an injury sustained in the Sunshine State. The matter can become even more complicated when the accident or injury occurs on privately-owned property.
At Anidjar & Levine, the South Florida personal injury attorneys represent clients throughout the region, including in Boca Raton, Coral Springs, Pompano Beach and Hollywood. Anidjar & Levine's attorneys are happy to discuss your potential claim in a free initial consultation. You can reach the firm's Ft. Lauderdale offices at (800) 747-3733 or fill out an on-line "Contact Us" form.
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