The first thing that a plaintiff in a Florida negligence case must do is prove that the person or entity that he or she is suing owed the plaintiff a “duty of care.” While most businesses operating in Florida owe their customers such a duty, the ruling of the state District Court of Appeal for the First District in Hinley v. Florida Motorcycle Training, Inc. reveals a common way in which a customer’s right to this duty may be waived.
Plaintiff Mary Hinley registered for a basic motorcycle riding course offered by Defendant Florida Motorcycle Training, Inc. (FMT). Prior to enrolling, Hinley printed a registration application from FMT’s website and signed it. The application included an exculpatory provision under the heading: “Waiver of Release of Liability–Please Read Carefully.” The provision stated that Hinley agreed to “assume all risks and dangers and all responsibilities for any losses and/or damages, whether caused in whole or in part by the negligence or other conduct of the owners, agents, officers, or employees of [FMT] or by another other person. The provision further states:
I, on behalf of myself, my personal representatives and my heirs hereby voluntarily agree to release, waive, discharge, hold harmless, defend and indemnify Florida Motorcycle Training. Inc. and its owners, agents, officers, and employees from any and all claims, suits or causes of action for bodily injury, property damage, wrongful death, loss of services or- otherwise which may arise out of my use of motorcycles and motorcycle equipment or my participation in the Motorcycle Rider Education Class activities.
Hinley was injured in an accident during the training course. She filed an action against FMT alleging several theories of negligence. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of FMT finding that exculpatory provisions expressly waived and released FMT from any liability arising from Hinley’s participation in the course.
On appeal, the appeals court affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment, finding that Hinley’s claim that the exculpatory provision was unclear and ambiguous was without merit. The court noted that “[e]xculpatory clauses are enforceable only where and to the extent that the intention to be relieved was made clear and unequivocal in the contract.” The court determined, nevertheless, that “it is obvious from a reading of the exculpatory provision as a whole that the provision was plainly intended to relieve FMT of liability for negligence associated with the motorcycle training classes.”
The court also shot down Hinley’s argument that the exculpatory provision violates “public policy,” finding that such an argument is viable only where “the party seeking exculpation is engaged in performing a service of great public importance, which is often a matter of practical necessity for some members of the public…”
The legal term “negligence” is the most common theory of recovery for persons injured in accidents, including car, aviation and motorcycle accidents as well as incidents of medical malpractice. The South Florida personal injury attorneys at Anidjar & Levine have a wide range of experience bringing negligence claims on behalf of injured clients. If you were injured due to another person’s negligent behavior, call the Fort Lauderdale negligence attorneys at Anidjar & Levine for a free consultation. You can reach our offices at 800-747-3733 or contact us online.
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