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Tennessee Court Upholds Ability of Parties to Contract Away Negligence Claims

wheelchairIf you have recently gone to an amusement park, played a group sport, or rented a mountain bike, you likely signed a waiver before you were allowed to participate in any of those activities. That waiver informed you of your rights and asked you to assume the risk of the activities you were undertaking so that others could not be held liable for any injuries that you might experience. Sometimes, these types of waivers will also ask individuals to waive their right to certain claims, like negligence claims, before participating. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals looked at whether it was permissible for a transportation operator to require that its clients waive any right to negligence claims.

In this Tennessee personal injury case, F.C. was 77 and recovering from a total knee replacement when he needed to visit his doctor for a follow-up appointment. Since he could not drive, his hospital, HealthSouth, arranged for a transportation service to pick him up, take him to his appointment, and take him back home. The transport van was owned by a company called MedicOne. Prior to using MedicOne’s services, F.C. was required to sign a waiver that specifically released MedicOne from any claims arising from negligence by MedicOne or its related parties. F.C. signed the waiver. After his appointment, while F.C. was being picked up, he fell when getting back into the MedicOne van and re-injured his knee. F.C. later sued MedicOne for negligence because it failed to use reasonable care in transporting F.C. In its Answer and a later Motion to Dismiss, MedicOne pointed to the waiver signed by F.C. and the release provision that released MedicOne from any potential claims. The trial court agreed and dismissed F.C.’s claims. F.C. appealed.

On appeal, F.C. argued that the waiver in the MedicOne agreement was unconscionable and invalid because MedicOne was a professional provider of transportation services, and professionals generally cannot require their clients to waive negligence claims. Under Tennessee law, exculpatory clauses in agreements with professionals can be invalidated when the professional is providing a service that is valuable and necessary to the public, and, as a result, the professional holds an unfair bargaining position. For example, Tennessee courts have held that doctors cannot require patients to release the doctor from liability for claims that may arise while medical services are being conducted, since the patient is at an unfair disadvantage while seeking the assistance of the doctor. F.C. argued that a similar standard should apply in his case to invalidate MedicOne’s agreement.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals disagreed. First, it found that MedicOne’s transportation drivers were not professionals within the meaning of the term because they were not licensed and specialized, nor regulated by the state. Second, the court noted that while relationships with professionals may create a certain degree of trust, this was not the case in F.C.’s relationship with his driver. Third, F.C. was not at a bargaining disadvantage when he decided to use MedicOne’s services. If he disagreed with their waiver, he easily could have called a taxi or an Uber instead. Thus, the court held, F.C.’s situation was very different from that of a patient, and the unique public protections against waivers and releases did not apply to F.C. Since they did not apply, MedicOne’s waiver stood, and F.C. was barred from bringing negligence claims against MedicOne. Therefore, the Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of F.C.’s claims.

In today’s busy world, we don’t often pay close attention to the language in the waivers that we are signing, but with a simple signature you may be releasing important claims that could be used to protect your rights in the aftermath of an injury. You should always review waivers and releases closely to determine how they may affect you, and, in some cases, it may be necessary to have an attorney carefully evaluate them as well. Tennessee personal injury attorney Eric Beasley knows the ins and outs of liability waivers, including waivers of negligence claims, and he can help you evaluate whether a waiver you signed is permissible or invalid. For more information or to discuss the circumstances of your case, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Tennessee Supreme Court Denies Claim of Res Ipsa Loquitur Negligence, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, April 12, 2017.

Tennessee Courts Consider When a Party Can Be Held Liable for an Agent’s Negligence, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, October 12, 2016.

Do Curbs For Wheelchair Ramps Constitute Dangerous Conditions In Tennessee?, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, January 27, 2016.