Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton Signs Bill Governing Liability Waivers
On May 24, 2013, Governor Mark Dayton signed a bill into law governing liability waivers in Minnesota. The new law essentially codifies the existing common law in Minnesota, ensuring that waivers may remain valid and enforceable in Minnesota under many circumstances.
The final law, as passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Dayton, is a stark contrast from bills initially introduced in the House and Senate earlier this year. In February, bills were introduced in both chambers that would have made liability waivers void and unenforceable in most settings. The initial version of the bill introduced in the House sought to ban any agreement purporting to release, limit or waive liability for a party’s negligence in operating, maintaining or designing their premises.
After opposition to the bills was mounted by various groups, the House bill was eventually amended to reflect that only agreements purporting to release, limit or waive liability resulting from “greater than ordinary negligence” are void and unenforceable. This amended bill was eventually passed by both chambers and signed by Governor Dayton. By providing that only liability waivers aimed at greater than ordinary negligence are unenforceable, the new law essentially codifies existing law in Minnesota. Under the common law as developed by Minnesota courts, liability waivers are unenforceable if they purport to release a defendant from liability for intentional, willful or wanton acts.
The “greater than ordinary negligence” language in the new law is consistent with the standard that has been applied by Minnesota courts for decades. Importantly, the new law also provides that unenforceable portions of liability waivers are severable from those portions of agreements seeking to waive only liability for ordinary negligence. Accordingly, a liability waiver that may be written too broadly is not necessarily void so long as portions of it remain enforceable.
Interestingly, the new law also broadly defines who is a “party” to a liability waiver, and includes agents of a party, minors and those authorized to sign an agreement on behalf of a minor. Although Minnesota courts have previously upheld liability waivers signed by a parent on behalf of a minor child, they have not enforced waivers entered into by minors themselves. It remains to be seen whether the new law will broaden the enforceability of waivers in this regard.
Having survived the legislature this session, liability waivers will continue to be an essential tool for companies to minimize and manage the risks of potential claims. For questions about how to minimize risks through properly-drafted liability waivers, please call Benjamin Johnson at 612-305-7693 or Brian Johnson at 612-305-7505.