Will Hold Harmless Waivers Actually Hold You Harmless?

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It has become common for business, especially health clubs, yoga studios or those that provide other recreational activities, to ask clients to sign a legal waiver, also known as a hold harmless form, in order to participate in the activity. The goal is to protect the business from legal liability, if something should happen. The question remains of whether such a form is legally valid. As is so often the case, it depends.

There is no magic language that Minnesota courts look for in determining whether a hold harmless provision is enforceable. However, there are guidelines that should be followed to make it more likely that a court would enforce a liability waiver, if the issue should ever be brought to court. First, Minnesota courts prefer liability waivers that aren’t overly broad or ambiguous. Language that is specific to the situation is preferred. Courts also often refuse to enforce a waiver that tries to hold a business harmless from all acts, including the negligent acts of its employees or willful and wanton acts. Finally, businesses that provide a public or essential service, such as a hospital, public utilities or hotel owners cannot require clients or customers to sign legal waivers and expect them to be upheld by a court. Businesses such as health clubs, horse stables or bike rentals do not provide public or essential services. Therefore, a legal waiver, if drafted correctly, should be upheld in court.

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