EXCULPATORY CLAUSE IN EMPLOYMENT AGREEMENT WAS BOTH UNAMBIGUOUS AND ENFORCEABLE TO PREVENT THE PLAINTIFF’S LAWSUIT AGAINST A CUSTOMER OF THE PLAINTIFF’S EMPLOYER.
Merlien v. JM Family Enterprises, 45 Fla. L Weekly D1749 (Fla. 4th DCA July 22, 2020):
A firm providing security services for various clients hired the plaintiff, and assigned him to work as a security guard for JM Family Enterprises. He was injured there after falling on the JM facility’s stairs.
In response to the plaintiff’s premises liability lawsuit against JM Enterprises, the defendant asserted that the plaintiff’s employment agreement insulated it from liability. The disclaimer stated that upon accepting employment waived and forever released any and all rights to make a claim or file a lawsuit against any customers/employees of f the employer to which the plaintiff/employee was assigned, in the event those injuries were covered under the Workers’ Compensation statutes.
While public policy disfavors exculpatory contracts because they relieve one party of the obligation to use due care, there is a general countervailing policy favoring the enforcement contracts, and unambiguous exculpatory contracts are enforceable unless they contravene public policy.
Because this disclaimer was limited to injuries covered under the Workers’ Compensation statute, and made no promises or representations other than explaining that injuries would be paid for by the Workers’ Compensation insurer, the court found the agreement was unambiguous.
Also, because the plaintiff’s injury fell under the scope of the worker’s compensation statutes, and he received payment for his injuries, the disclaimer did not subvert the worker’s compensation scheme, but rather fully utilized it.
The plaintiff was not coerced into signing this agreement. Instead, he voluntarily agreed as a condition of his employment to limit his avenues for recovery to the State’s workers’ compensation program.
Thus, the court concluded that the disclaimer signed by the plaintiff was unambiguous, not in violation of Florida’s public policy and therefore, enforceable.