Hackett v. Grand Seas Resort Owner’s Ass’n Inc., 93 So. 3d 378, 379-81 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2012)

This appellate court case dealt with a guest who was at a resort and injured while on the property. The court was faced with the issue of determining whether or not the trial court was correct in granting a summary judgment for the resort in the negligence claim brought on by the plaintiff for damages.

Grand Seas Resort is a timeshare resort where owner, and plaintiff to the lawsuit, Richard Hackett was staying as a guest. Grand Seas was the association for those who owned units at the resort. Hackett brought a personal injury suit against the association after he suffered injuries when a chair that he was sitting in gave-way and caused him to fall. Hackett claimed that the resort had a duty to protect him from unreasonable dangerous conditions, and they breached that duty when they permitted the unsafe chair to remain in the unit.

What ultimately transpired at the trial level was Grand Seas Resort moved for and was granted summary judgment because of a waiver clause located in a signed document by Hackett. Prior to the stay with Grand Seas, Hackett executed a “Guest License Agreement” that had the following specific wording in it:

Notice to Guest: This property is privately owned. Management reserves the right to refuse service to anyone, and will not be responsible for accidents or injury to guest or for the loss of money, jewelry or valuables of any kind. Guest authorizes the use of credit card on file for any and all unpaid charges.

After Hackett lost his lawsuit at the trial level, he appealed the case. The appellate court reversed the trial court’s ruling for summary judgment because the decision was based exclusively on the clause located in the agreement, and the wording of the clause was not exactly clear.

The appellate court pointed out that there are differences between pre-claim “exculpatory clauses” and post-claim “releases”, but that both types of clauses try to steer liability away from the responsible party to an injury. The language used in these clauses must be clearly stated so that the person signing the document has not question as to what they are waiving by executing the document. The court looks specifically to language which clearly states that if one signs, they will be giving up a particular right. This right is generally the ability to recover money after an injury due to the negligent act of the party being ‘released’.

After the appellate court heard arguments by both sides, they concluded that the language of the clause that was signed by Hackett was uncertain as far as what was being waived. In order for Grand Seas to have been successful in their language of waiving liability, something more specific than the use of “accident” would have needed to be used so that a person who was signing the document knew exactly what type of negligent act was waived.

The trial court’s decision was reversed, and the case was sent back down to be tried before a jury. The appellate court claimed that the ambiguous language in the “Guest License Agreement” was insufficient to be enforceable.

If you or a loved one have been injured at a resort or timeshare and have questions about your accident, then contact the Fort Lauderdale injury firm of Madalon Law for your free consultation.