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Article 16-39 B
¡No Se Deje!
In the first part of this article last week, I explained that releases are contracts or agreements that limit or end legal rights to sue. Many releases are short one page forms but they can be complicated documents that are several pages long. Releases are used to settle legal claims and lawsuits between the parties. For example, in typical auto accident cases, the innocent victim often files a claim for personal injury or property damage (the car).
According to the California Civil Code, releases that exempt someone from responsibility for their own fraud or willful injury to the person or property of another, or of a violation of law, are against the policy of the law and are invalid. The law invalidates private releases affecting the “public interest.” For a better understanding here there are some examples:
The courts invalidated a release by a childcare provider because childcare services are regulated by the state and are of vital importance to the public and are a matter of practical necessity. And, in another case, a release was invalidated regarding automobile services since such services are a practical necessity and a vital life or death function in a society dependent on cars. And, in one of the leading cases dealing with releases, TUNKL, the court invalidated a release used by a hospital as a condition of receiving medical treatment because hospital services are a critical necessity and applicants for admission are in no position to bargain with the hospital or find another hospital that does not require a release.
In another case the California Court of Appeals refused to find a release valid regarding a drowning in a municipal swimming pool in Santa Barbara. The court said that although the release was valid to exempt the city from liability for ordinary negligence, it would not be valid if a jury decided that the city or its employee is guilty of “gross negligence”. Gross negligence is defined under California law as “An act or omission that shows a failure to exercise even slight care or that constitutes an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.” It is action that indicates an indifferent attitude toward the consequences of his conduct or for the safety and welfare of others. Gross negligence is an act or omission that is so dangerous that the actor should know that it is highly probable that harm will result.
The lesson to be learned is that some releases are invalid and not enforceable. It is always better to not sign a release that is unfair to you. In the case of a release that settles a claim or lawsuit, be sure that the amount being paid is fair and adequate before you sign it. Unless your claim is very minor, you should always discuss case value with an experienced attorney before you sign a release. You should assume that a release will be valid and enforceable because it may be. And finally, if you have signed a release that seems unfair to you, contact an experienced attorney immediately since you now know that some releases are not valid. ¡NO SE DEJE! ®
JESS J. ARAUJO, ESQ.