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Unambiguous Exculpatory Clauses in Employment Contract Waiving Negligence Claims Against Employer for Employee’s On-the-Job Injuries are Valid and Enforceable under Florida Law

The Fourth District Court of Appeal has recently ruled in Merlien v. JM Family Enterprises, Inc., 301 So. 3d 1 (Fla. 4th DCA 2020) that unambiguous exculpatory clauses in employment contracts waiving negligence claims against employers for on-the-job injuries are enforceable.

In Merlien, the plaintiff/employee signed a waiver as a condition of his employment that prohibits suit against the employer (and its affiliates) for injuries covered by the worker’s compensation statutes. The plaintiff/employee received workers' compensation benefits for his injuries. The employee also filed a negligence lawsuit against the employer’s affiliate, asserting slip and fall liability. The employer’s affiliate brought a motion for summary solely based upon the argument that the plaintiff/employee’s waiver barred the lawsuit.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s grant of the motion for summary judgment in favor of the affiliate. The Fourth District Court of Appeal analyzed the waiver's specific language and found it to be clear and unambiguous. The Court also rejected the plaintiff/employee’s argument that the waiver violated Florida's public policy. The Court explained that the waiver does not subvert the worker’s compensation act, but instead fully utilizes the statutory scheme as the plaintiff’s sole means of recovery.

This opinion drives home the need for employers to periodically consult with legal counsel to review employment contracts and policies to ensure that they are thoroughly and adequately protected from all liability to the limits of current laws and regulations.

Rosenthal Law Group is available to help employers draft all aspects of employment contracts and waivers, including disclaimers of liability.