The Law Office of Kurt H King

January 5, 2011

Waivers/releases of liability in Missouri

Are waivers/releases of liability in leases, gym contracts, etc., binding under Missouri law? Answer: sometimes not.

These provisions are everywhere now days as landlords, gym owners, and many others want the other party to sign standard contracts with provisions that the “little guy” releases or waives all claims he/she may have against the landlord (for example), even if the negligence or fault of the “big” party to the contract is the cause of injury or damage to the “little” party. For example, these provisions are used to bar claims by gym users who are injured by faulty gym equipment, tenants who slip and fall on ice and snow which the landlord failed to remove despite a duty to do so, and on and on.

In the case of Alack v. Vic Tanny International of Missouri, 923 S.W.2d 330 (1996), the Missouri Supreme Court set some limits on these waivers/releases and they should NOT be valid/binding on the injured party unless the written language satisfies these rules.

One requirement is that the waiver/release language must be clear and conspicuous–meaning it should be in bold/large/standout type, preferably referred to in the title, and noted by a subheading or title that stands out and makes it known that the provision deals with waiver/release of liablility. This is particularly true of residential or consumer contracts where the party that is waiving claims of liability of the other party is not as sophiscated or experienced as a commercial business would be. A good idea is to have the waiver/release in a separate document, so titled, and executed by the parties to the agreement

Another requirement is that the waiver/release language be clear, unambiguous, and free of duplicity. For example, take a lease contained 2 separate and different provisions calling for the tenant to waive and relase the landlord from any liability for not timely removing/treating snow and ice at the apartment complex. And, one of the provisions called for the the landlord not to be liable to the tenant for such under any circumstances, while the other provision called for the landlord not to be liable unless it was grossly negligent or intentionally injured the tenant. These provisions obviously differ and are unclear to lawyers–and surely the tenant is confused. Such ambiguous, unclear, and conflicting provisions could and should be struck down by a Missouri court so that the tenant or other “little guy” is free to sue the “big” party for the wrongdoing of the “big” guy.

The Alack court decision above, also states point blank, that “there is no question that one may never exonerate oneself from future liability for intentional torts or for gross negligence, or for activities involving the public interest.” More reasons why a waiver/release may be void.

Bottomline: Just because the contract says so, does not mean the waiver/release will hold up in court. Have it checked out by your lawyer to be sure.

Kurt H. King
Law Office of Kurt H. King
20 E. Franklin
Liberty, Clay County, Missouri 64068

Bankruptcy, Child Custody and Support, Divorce and Modification, Family Law
Personal Injury, Workers’ Compensation

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