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Specificity requirement does not extend to limitations of liability, 7th Circuit rules

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a contract clause limiting liability stands because the two commercial entities that entered into the agreement were sophisticated and knowingly negotiated the terms.

SAMS Hotel Group LLC filed a diversity-jurisdiction suit against Environs, Inc., an architectural firm, for breach of contract and negligence. The hotel group had contracted with Environs to build a six-story Homewood Suites hotel in Fort Wayne.

Shortly after the contract was signed in March 2007, the design and construction process began. However, just as the hotel was nearing completion, structural defects were discovered that eventually led to the structure being condemned and demolished.

SAMS estimated its loss topped $4.2 million.

The original contract the two parties entered into provided Environs a flat fee of $70,000 for its work. The contract also contained a clause limiting Environs’ liability for breach of contract to an amount not exceeding “the total lump sum fee due to negligence, errors, omissions, strict liability, breach of contact or breach of warranty.”

SAMS filed a diversity-jurisdiction suit against Environs for breach of contract and negligence. The U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Indiana held the limitation of liability clause was enforceable which capped SAMS’s breach of contract claim at $70,000.

In SAMS Hotel Group, LLC, doing business as Homewood Suites Hotel v. Environs, Inc., 12-2717, the 7th Circuit affirmed.

SAMS argued that the limitation of liability provision in the contract was not enforceable because the provision did not refer specifically to a limit on damages for Environs’ own negligence. The provision, SAMS asserted, covered only Environs liability for negligence of third parties.

While Indiana courts have made specificity a requirement in indemnification and exculpatory clauses, they have not spoke clearly regarding limitation of liability clauses in sophisticated commercial contracts. SAMS argued the differences among the provisions were not significant so the specificity requirement should apply to the limitation of liability.

The Circuit Court was not persuaded. It held that the difference types of clauses serve different purposes and Indiana case law does not indicate they should be analyzed alike. Moreover, while a limitation of liability clause can be harsh when it limits a party’s liability to only nominal damages, SAMS knew what it was getting into.

“…SAMS and Environs were sophisticated commercial entities that knew the risks and freely bargained for the terms of the contract, including the limitation of liability clause. SAMS did not unknowingly agree to the limitation of liability clause or assume these risks,” Judge David Hamilton wrote for the court. “To the extent it suffered a harsh result, it cannot blame the general nature of limitation of liability clauses.”
 

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  1. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  4. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  5. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

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