In December 2015, Carolyn Mattson incurred a work-related injury that left her unable to perform the normal duties of her regular employment.
During her period of recovery, she was assigned by her employer to work as a volunteer at a food bank warehouse operated by Feeding America Riverside San Bernardino Counties, Inc. as part of a transitional work program. While there, Mattson incurred a second injury when she tripped over a wooden pallet on the floor of Feeding America’s warehouse.
Mattson filed a complaint against Feeding America that sought compensation for her injury based upon the theories of negligence and premises liability.
Among other things, defendant alleged as an affirmative defense that prior to participating in any activities with defendant, plaintiff had executed a written agreement entitled, “Waiver and Release of Liability,” which voluntarily released defendant from liability for any future personal injuries arising from defendant’s negligence.
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Feeding America based upon the affirmative defense of waiver due to a release executed by plaintiff prior to beginning her work, but denied summary judgment with respect to the workers’compensation exclusivity defense. The court of appeal affirmed in the unpublished case of Mattson v. Feeding America Riverside San Bernardino Counties.
The court of appeal deem the separate defense of workers’compensation exclusivity waived on appeal, and summarized only the evidence and law pertaining to the issue of waiver.
An exculpatory contract releasing a party from liability for future ordinary negligence is valid unless it is prohibited by statute or impairs the public interest. However, a release of liability for future ordinary negligence may be invalidated when the court determines that a particular release concerns a service that transcends a purely private agreement and affects the public interest. Additionally, a release of liability for future gross negligence . . . generally is unenforceable as a matter of public policy. There was no allegation in the complaint of gross negligence, thus the issue on appeal was essentially “public interest.”
In Tunkl v. Regents of University of Cal. (1963) 60 Cal.2d 92, the California Supreme Court set forth six factors used to determine if a contract affects the public interest.
None of the public interest factors are present in this case, the trial court did not err when it declined to hold the release per se unenforceable as a matter of public policy.