"Boiler plate" language in Release giving up claims against "all others" is enforced in favor of a stranger to the Release
David Hunt and Carol Santangelo sued their Condo Association and the lessor of their unit, alleging that hazardous substances in the condominium they rented caused them to suffer serious illnesses. Ultimately, they settled their claim against these defendants and executed a Release which contained language releasing "any and all other persons, firms or corporations charged or chargeable with responsibility or liability" for their injury claims. This is standard or "boiler-plate" language that insurers settling claims always demand to include in settlements.
In most cases, the victim's attorney will attempt to limit the Release language to parties in privity with the setting defendants and their insurers, particularly if any subsequent action against non-parties is contemplated. That didn't happen in the Hunt/Santangelo case, however, and when the injury victims attempted to bring an action against the builder of the condominium, the builder's insurer argued that it should be entitled to the protection of the broad release language in the prior settlement.Before the Engler-appointed, pro-insurance Michigan Supreme Court Justices secured control over Michigan jurisprudence, Michigan applied law similar to the other states and held that a "stranger" to the release agreement could not benefit from a release that the stranger did not bargain for. In many cases, the settling, release-signing party was allowed to "reform" any stray and unintended overly-broad release language if a third-party attempted to use it to unfair advantage. About 15 years ago, however, Michigan jurisprudence "flip-flopped" and the broad language of a release was given straight-forward, total enforcement for the benefit of a stranger in Romska v. Opper. When the Supreme Court was briefly balanced between insurance interests and consumer interests, this decision was repudiated, but on a limited factual basis. The Court in the Hunt case went back to the Romska reasoning, however, and gave broad application to the prior release language, allowing dismissal of the current defendants (and their insurer) based on the release executed when the prior case was compromised.