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Company fastening tether is allowed to demand release from its own negligence

Joseph Jaye was injured when the House Arrest Services employee tightened the Court-ordered tether on his ankle too tightly.  Joe was required to wear the tether as part of his punishment for an alcohol-related driving offense.  He claimed the tether caused a severe laceration on his ankle before it was removed.  The Court of Appeals held that he could not sue the company because it had conditioned its contract on his signature releasing the company from liability for and "consequential...damages...arising out of...the transactions contemplated hereunder".  The three judges held that this language was adequate to represent a "meeting of the minds" by the parties to the contract that House Arrest Services would not be responsible for the negligence of its employees.

There was a time in Michigan when this kind of "anticipatory" release, signed by a party without independent consideration for the release and holding a party harmless for its own malfeasance was looked upon as against public policy and rarely enforced.  Under the Engler Majority, almost any document that would minimize an insurer's responsibility, regardless of the circumstances or context, has been enforced, with the only limited exception being releases signed on behalf of children. 

In other states, independent consideration for the promise not to sue is required and the "release" must be in clear language that is prominently emphasized in the contract.  Frequently, such a promise cannot be enforced if there is any disparity in bargaining power, or if the release language is contained in a contract of "adhesion" (i.e., a boilerplate contract with no reasonable opportunity for the weaker party to negotiate terms--like the contract your auto insurer mailed you three weeks after you bought the policy). 

Its an ugly, sad day when a third-party business can present to a prisoner attempting to leave the jail a contract containing vague release language and thereby secure immunity from its own negligence.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
309 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
Toll Free: 1-800-678-1307
Fax: 231-929-7262