An exculpatory clause in a contract is a clause aimed at relieving another party from certain liability. A disclaimer and insulation from liability. Obviously, if you are the party relieving the other party from liability, you want to consider this risk including the potential enforceability of this risk if something goes wrong. If you are the party asking for the insulation from liability, you do not want to create an exculpatory provision that disclaims and insulates you of all liability arising from the contract as it may create an illusory effect – that the agreement is nothing but a naked promise on your end because your promise is fully disclaimed and you are insulated from liability if you break your promise. This could result in an unenforceable contract.
The validity of such an exculpatory clause was at-issue in Pier 1 Cruise Experts v. Revelex Corp., 2019 WL 3024618 (11thCir. 2019). Although not a construction dispute, the exculpatory clause in this case was with two fairly sophisticated parties and expressly insulated one of the contracting parties from “any…damages regardless of kind or type…whether in contract, tort (including negligence), or otherwise.” Pier 1 Cruise Experts, 2019 WL at *7. This is a powerful exculpatory clause because it could be broadly construed to insulate that party from its own breaches of the contract.
[A]n exculpatory clause is enforceable so long as (1) the contracting parties have equal bargaining power and (2) the clause’s provisions are clear and unambiguous. With respect to the latter requirement, ‘the intention to be relieved from liability [must be] made clear and unequivocal and the wording must be so clear and understandable that an ordinary and knowledgeable person will know what he is contracting away.” In the same vein, exculpatory clauses are ‘strictly construed against the party seeking to be relieved of liability.’
Pier 1 Cruise Experts, 2019 WL at *7 (internal citations omitted).