Munn v. Hotchkiss School
An exculpatory contract may not be enforceable if: 1.) it concerns a business suitable for regulation; 2.) the business performs a service of great public interest; 3.) the business offers its services to the general public; 4.) the party seeking exculpation has a decisive bargaining advantage; 5.) the release constitutes a contract of adhesion; and 6.) the release places the purchaser under the control of the seller, pursuant to Hanks v. Powder Ridge, a 2005 decision of the Connecticut Supreme Court. In March 2007, 15-year-old Cara Munn and her parent signed a waiver of liability, to release Hotchkiss School's responsibility in connection with Munn's summer classes in Tianjin, China. During the trip, Munn was diagnosed with tick-borne encephalitis and lost her ability to speak. Cara and her parents sued Hotchkiss School, alleging it negligently failed to ensure that students took adequate precautions against disease. The plaintiffs filed a motion to preclude the introduction of the waiver of liability. Hotchkiss met the first requirement in Hanks v. Powder Ridge, because Hotchkiss must meet state educational standards. It met the second requirement, because it performs a public service of teaching children. It met the third requirement, because it permitted students from other schools to participate in the trip to China. It met the fourth requirement, because it drafted the waiver and informed students they would not be allowed to participate, unless they signed. It met the fifth requirement, because it enjoyed a decisive bargaining advantage. "If Cara wanted to go to China with Hotchkiss and enjoy all the advantages of such a trip," wrote the court, "she had to sign a release that the school argues waived her right to sue." Hotchkiss met the sixth requirement, because it controlled access to travel information and doctors. "Hotchkiss school's employees," wrote the court, "were in the exclusive position to evaluate the risks Cara encountered on her trip and to ensure that Cara had the resources to protect herself." The waiver of liability that the plaintiffs signed was unenforceable and void, as a matter of public policy, and the court granted the motion to exclude.