Release of Your Personal Injury Claim in Missouri

The Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of Missouri recently decided a case interpreting a release for personal injuries.  DeCormier v. Harley-Davidson Motor Company Group, Inc., No. ED99064 (August 13, 2013).

Ms. DeCormier, the Plaintiff, had summary judgment entered against her and in favor of the Defendants which included Harley-Davidson Motor Company Group, Inc. Ms. DeCormier sought damages for personal injuries she sustained while participating in Harley Davidson’s Rider’s Edge New Rider Course near St. Louis. She had signed a release prior to the New Rider Course and she wished to proceed with a lawsuit against certain Defendants despite having signed the release. 

She filed a two-count lawsuit against the Defendants alleging that Defendants knew or should have known that there were icy conditions on the motorcycle range that created an unreasonable risk of bodily harm, and that they knew or should have known that an inexperienced rider on icy or slippery conditions created an unreasonable risk of bodily harm. She further alleged a count for premises liability under a similar theory. The Defendants moved for summary judgment based upon the affirmative defense of release. The Defendants claim that they had been released from all claims when the Plaintiff signed a release prior to the course. The Plaintiff argued that the release was ineffective as a matter of law as to gross negligence and that an exculpatory release never release a party for gross negligence or recklessness. The Court of Appeals, after a lengthy analysis of other Missouri cases, agreed that gross negligence or recklessness would not be released by the standard exculpatory release. The Court, when viewing the case on a summary judgment record, clearly though that the facts were not fully developed and that summary judgment was inappropriate by the trial court.

Further, the Plaintiff argued that the primary Defendant, the premises landowner, was not included in the release. The trial court had held that the Defendant Gateway Harley Davidson, a separate corporate entity, was included in the release. The Court of Appeals agreed that due to the broad language of the release it did include the authorized Harley Davidson dealer. But, because the release itself did not ultimately include the gross negligence or reckless claims, the case was reversed and remanded for trial.   

As Springfield, Missouri personal injury attorneys, it is common for us to see releases involved in various cases. If you are  asked to sign a release, you should seek legal assistance before signing it. Any person injured, whether it be in an auto accident, slip and fall, products liability or medical negligence case, should not sign any document without advice from an attorney. At Preston Law, we help injured people with these types of claims.  Call us for a free consultation on your personal injury claim.