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Exculpatory Agreements

December 19, 2017

Exculpatory Agreements

CaseFrederick Copeland v. Healthcare/Methodist Rehabilitation Hospital LP ET AL.

Issue:  Can a company enforce an exculpatory agreement that releases it from claims of negligence?

Facts:  Company provided medical transportation to Patient, who was in a wheelchair recuperating from a total knee replacement. Patient signed an exculpatory agreement releasing Company from claims of ordinary negligence. Patient was injured when he fell while trying to enter a van and sued for negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Company, finding the agreement was enforceable.

Appellate Decision:  The intermediate court affirmed, agreeing that the agreement was not an “adhesion contract” to which Patient did not have a realistic opportunity to reject. Examining relevant case law, the court noted there was no “trust relationship,” “emotional decision,” “important consideration,” or emergency. The court explained that Patient “could simply have called for other transportation (e.g., taxi or Uber), or he could have rescheduled his appointment.” The court also noted that the contract did not exclude gross negligence or misconduct from liability.

Review Granted:  December 8, 2017.

Prediction:  Ben thinks the supreme court is likely to reverse. This was not a routine transport service, but rather a specialized provider who provided vans equipped to carry medical patients in wheelchairs. It is unrealistic to expect a taxi or Uber to be able to accommodate someone in a wheelchair who cannot walk, and unfair to expect the patient to simply cancel his medical appointment. The Company, “MedicOne,” held itself out as a “medic” service and clearly had superior bargaining power over the infirm, elderly patient.