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Posts Tagged ‘contracts’

Georgia Court of Appeals Provides Guideline for Drafting Enforceable Exculpatory Clauses in Georgia

Posted on: April 23rd, 2019

By: Bart Gary and Jake Carroll

Exculpatory clauses are terms in a contract that shift the risk of loss to the other party or a third-party, or attempt to limit one’s obligations under a contract. A typical exculpatory clause is a “limitation of liability” provision, which is commonly used in agreements for services—especially professional services, rendered by accountants, architect, engineers and consultants.

Attempts to limit one’s liability to agreed amounts are sometimes challenged in court on the ground that they violate “public policy,” but are nevertheless generally enforceable in Georgia, provided such clauses are “explicit, prominent, clear and unambiguous.”

While these requirements have been addressed in prior appellate decisions, in Warren Averett, LLC v. Landcastle Acquisition Corp.[1] the Georgia Court of Appeals discussed in detail the “prominence” requirement for limitation of liability clauses in a contract for accounting services. The Court observed that a number of factors are considered when evaluating the enforceability of an exculpatory clause or limitation of liability clause:

  • Font. The clause should not be in the same font size used throughout the contract. It should be “capitalized, italicized, or set in bold type for emphasis.”
  • Setoff. The clause should be set off in a separate section that specifically addressed liability or recoverable damages, with a bold, underlined, capitalized or italicized specific heading, such as “Limitation of Liability” or “DAMAGES.”
  • Location. The clause should be in a prominent place within the contract to emphasize the importance of the clause’s limitation on recoverable damages, such as being adjacent to another similarly significant provision or being next to the parties’ signature lines.[2]

These factors should be used as a guide for parties when drafting and negotiating contracts with exculpatory clauses. For example, in construction contracts, the parties should pay close attention to the font and location of indemnity and no-damage-for-delay clauses. In commercial and professional services contracts, common exculpatory clauses that merit close scrutiny address indemnity, limitation of lability, waivers of certain types of damages, and insurance terms.

Finally, while the opinion is helpful as concerns what is not prominent, it does not offer a clear statement of what is prominent. For example, does the font need to be bold, capitalized, and italicized, or will one choice work? In light of the Warrant Averett decision, it would seem that the more factors met, the less risk the clause is found unenforceable.

If you have questions regarding this decision, or any other contract drafting questions, please contact Bart Gary at [email protected] and Jake Carroll at [email protected]. Mr. Gary and Mr. Carroll practice construction and commercial law as members of Freeman Mathis & Gary’s Construction LawCommercial Litigation, and Tort and Catastrophic Loss practice groups as well as representing business and commercial entities in a wide range of disputes and corporate matters involving breach of contract, business torts, and products liability claims.

[1] Warren Averett, LLC v. Landcastle Acquisition Corp., 2019 Ga. App. LEXIS 178, Case no. A18A2117, March 13, 2019. (physical precedent only). Because one judge of the three-judge panel concurred in the judgment, the opinion is limited, physical precedent.
[2] 2019 Ga. App. LEXIS 178 at 9-10 (emphasis by the Court) (internal citations omitted).

Georgia Court of Appeals Concludes the Term “Affiliate” is Ambiguous

Posted on: February 4th, 2019

By: Jake Carroll

In Salinas v. Atlanta Gas Light Company,[1] the Georgia Court of Appeals’ recently examined whether Georgia Natural Gas (“GNG”) and Atlanta Gas Light Company (“AGLC”) were “affiliates.” Both AGLC and GNG were owned and controlled, either directly or through an intermediary, by a company named AGL Resources, Inc.

In Salinas, AGLC sought to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims and compel arbitration. In support of its argument, AGLC relied on a term in GNG’s service agreement that required the Plaintiff to arbitrate any disputes with GNG’s “affiliates.” However, since the term “affiliate” was not defined in GNG’s agreement, the Court of Appeals looked at how the term “affiliate” is defined in the Georgia Code, Black’s Law Dictionary, and other jurisdictions, and ultimately determined that the term is ambiguous. The Court of Appeals construed the agreement against GNG—the drafter of the contract—and as a result, AGLC could not demand arbitration of Plaintiff’s dispute.

While the Court of Appeals did not set-out a specific definition for “affiliate,” the Court’s analysis provides a couple of practice tips to anyone involved in drafting, reviewing, or enforcing contracts, including commercial agreements, government contracts, or insurance policies.

  1. Define Your Terms: The Salinas Court may not have had to address the meaning of “affiliates” if the Agreement had defined the term. But, since the term was not defined, the Court looked elsewhere, including other jurisdictions, the Georgia Code, and the dictionary to determine its meaning. Including a definitions section is an easy way to set out the agreed-upon meaning of a term throughout a contract, and should not be overlooked.
  2. Be Explicit: If there is a certain sibling or parent corporation that should be a beneficiary of a contract, consider listing the specific “affiliates” to which the contract or agreement should apply.
  3. Check Your State’s Code: The Court noted that the term “affiliate” is defined over 20 times in the Georgia Code, and the definitions vary. For example, in the context of financial institutions, an affiliate is an entity that controls the election of a majority of directors, trustees of a financial institution, or an entity that owns or controls 50 percent or more of the financial institution. O.C.G.A. § 7-1-4 (1). In Georgia’s Corporations Act, the definition of affiliate is broader: “a person that directly, or indirectly through one or more intermediaries, controls or is controlled by or is under common control with a specified person.” O.C.G.A. § 14-2-1110 (1).[2] Depending on the type of corporate entity, “affiliate” may not include every entity in a corporate structure, and certain rules regarding ownership and control may be relevant.

If you need help with this issue, or any other commercial law questions, Jake Carroll practices construction and commercial law, is licensed to practice in Georgia and Florida, and is a member of Freeman Mathis & Gary’s Construction Law and Tort and Catastrophic Loss practice groups. He represents corporations and manufacturers in a wide range of litigation and corporate matters involving breach of contract, business torts, and products liability claims. He can be reached at [email protected].

[1] 347 Ga. App. 480; 819 S.E.2d 903 (2018).
[2] See also O.C.G.A. § 18-2-71 (1) (B) (“Affiliate” has multiple definitions, including “[a] corporation 20 percent or more of whose outstanding voting securities are directly or indirectly owned, controlled, or held with power to vote by the debtor or a person who directly or indirectly owns, controls, or holds with power to vote 20 percent or more of the outstanding voting securities of the debtor[.] …”).

LOL (Limitation of Liability) Clauses in A&E Contracts: He who laughs last, laughs best

Posted on: October 11th, 2017

By: Cheryl H. Shaw

It’s no coincidence that the abbreviation for “Limitation of Liability” is LOL. That’s the reaction design professionals often get when they include an LOL clause in a contract proposal. LOL or “exculpatory” clauses limit the designer’s liability for future claims—usually to the cost of services or a fixed dollar amount. Clients frequently balk at these clauses, but since the client reaps the bulk of the rewards for a successfully completed project (vs. the designer who’s “reward” is limited to his fee), shouldn’t the client also shoulder the bulk of the risk?

In Georgia, design professionals can contractually limit their liability for negligence. However, the LOL clause must be narrowly drafted so it does not violate Georgia’s anti-indemnity statute1. This means, among other things, that the clause should limit the designer’s liability to his client only, and not to third-parties who are “strangers” to the contract. Attempts to avoid liability to third-parties may render the entire clause unenforceable even if the claim is actually asserted by the client.

Additionally, because an LOL clause contemplates satisfaction of future claims and waives substantial rights, it must be “explicit, prominent, clear and unambiguous” in the contract. In determining if a clause is sufficiently prominent, Georgia courts consider several factors, including whether the clause is contained in a separate paragraph; whether the clause has a separate heading; and whether the clause is distinguished by features such as font size.

In one case, the Georgia Court of Appeals found an LOL clause unenforceable where it was “camouflaged” in the same font as the surrounding contract provisions and was listed under the heading “miscellaneous” instead of having its own separate paragraph. Conversely, an LOL clause contained entirely in its own paragraph, in bold and underlined text, and announced in a heading that clearly informed the reader of the clause’s content was sufficiently prominent.

A well-crafted LOL clause can be an effective tool to cap exposure in the event a lawsuit is filed and should be considered when negotiating contracts for professional services. If the client does, in fact, “laugh out loud” in response to your proposal, one strategy is to provide the option: You can either perform the services without an LOL clause for one fee, or you can lower the fee if the client will accept the clause.

FMG’s Construction Law practice group is here to assist you in drafting these important contact provisions. If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Cheryl H. Shaw at [email protected].

Minnesota High Court Rules that Additional Insured is not Covered in the Absence of Negligence of the Named Insured

Posted on: March 28th, 2013

By: Bart Gary

Many contracts, especially construction contracts, will contain a provision whereby one party, usually a subcontractor, agrees to add the other party to the contract, usually the general contractor, as an additional insured on the former’s insurance coverage. Where the additional insured has its own coverage, the question arises as to whether there are in effect multiple insurance coverages for the additional insured, and whether the named insured’s insurance policy must answer for claims against the additional insured.

The Supreme Court of Minnesota was confronted with a very unusual set of facts. A general contractor was an additional insured in the liability policy of its subcontractor. The general contractor directed the subcontractor where to install sheet piles; however, the subcontractor actually drove the piles and thereby damaged underground pipes. A jury had determined that the subcontractor was not negligent in damaging the pipes.  The general contractor nevertheless contended that it was covered under the subcontractor’s liability insurance policy as an additional insured.

The Court held that the additional insured endorsement in the subcontractor’s insurance policy is plainly for vicarious or derivative liability of the additional insured based upon the negligence of the principal, or named, insured. Vicarious liability arises where one party, for example an employer, is liable for the conduct of an employee by the relationship. Since the general contractor could be vicariously liable only if the subcontractor was liable, the jury’s exoneration of the subcontractor meant that the general contractor was not covered as an additional insured on the subcontractor’s policy. Eng’g. & Constr. Innovations, Inc. v. L.H. Bolduc Co., 825 N.W.2d 695 (Minn. 2013).

Beware If You Have Commissioned Employees in California – New Law Takes Effect in 2013

Posted on: December 27th, 2012

By: Brad Adler

For those employers that have operations in California, remember that California’s new commission contract law takes effect January 1, 2013.  Under State Law 1396, employers who pay commissions to their employees are required to enter into written commission agreements with them.  The agreement must describe the terms of the commission structure, including the method by which commissions will be calculated.  Employers must have employees sign the agreement and then provide a copy to each employee.  Employers also should note that, when a commission agreement expires for a current employee without being replaced by another agreement, the terms of the expired agreement will control.