South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Exculpatory Clause at Snow Resort Held to Violate Public Policy
Description

Connecticut high court held that a clear and well-drafted exculpatory clause signed by patrons at a snow resort violated public policy. The law disfavors blanket exceptions from negligence when the public has a right to expect a safe operation.

Topic Contracts
Key Words

Exculpatory Clauses; Enforceability; Public Policy

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Hanks went snowtubing for the first time at Powder Ridge Ski Resort. He signed a well-written, clear agreement that held that he would not hold the resort operator liable for any injuries he suffered. He was seriously injured and required multiple surgeries. He sued the resort operator for negligence. The suit was dismissed as Hanks had signed the exculpatory clause. He appealed.

Decision

Reversed. The exculpatory clause in the contract was clear and well drafted. It stated that the patron understood the he would "fully assume all risks associated with snowtubing, even if due to the negligence" of the resort operators. The law does not favor contract provisions that relieve a party from negligence. Even when such clauses are clear, they may violate public policy. Whether they do depends on the totality of the circumstances and the backdrop of current social expectations. Such a clause is an adhesion contract-there is no bargaining about the issue, which makes it disfavored. Further, the resort was open to the public-anyone age six and above could go snowtubing, which creates the impression that it is a safe recreational opportunity. The plaintiff paid a fee and expected to have safe recreation that was under the control of the resort operator. Hanks could have no knowledge of the safety of the resort but, like other members of society, expected it to be safe.

Citation

Hanks v. Powder Ridge Restaurant Corp., 885 A.2d 734 (Sup. Ct., Conn., 2005)

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