An exculpatory clause is a contractual provision that relieves a party from liability for any future negligent or wrongful act. Maryland has long recognized that these clauses are valid and that two adults may contractually agree that one or more parties will not be liable for their own negligence. Recently, however, the Court of Appeals of Maryland has taken this principle one step further and held that parents may sign an exculpatory clause on behalf of their minor children—in essence—agreeing that a company may negligently harm their children and not be held responsible for such conduct.
In BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc. v. Rosen, Sept. Term 2012, No. 99 (Nov. 27, 2013), BJ Wholesale Club (BJ’s) provided a kids’ play area in its store so that parents could drop their kids off to play while the parents shopped. Before allowing parents to take advantage of the play area, however, BJ’s required all parents to sign a contractual agreement on behalf of their children. Included in this agreement was an exculpatory clause protecting BJ’s from any liability for injuries that may be suffered by the children while in the play area. A child was then seriously injured while using the play area, and subsequently brought a claim alleging that BJ’s had negligently caused the injury. Relying on the contractual exculpatory clause, BJ’s argued that it was free from all liability for the child’s injuries and the case was dismissed. The Court of Appeals agreed.