False reliance on these disclaimers can be a very expensive mistake. Find out whether your disclaimer notice will be sufficient to protect you and your employees.
Disclaimer notices are commonly seen in shopping centres, stadiums, parking lots and other public areas. These notices are generally aimed at protecting the owner or employees with regards to the area in question, by exempting him/her from legal liability when a member of public using the area suffers damage.
It is well established that disclaimer notices are enforceable when properly implemented. This is clear from the extract below:
Durban’s Water Wonderland (Pty) Ltd v Botha and Another (1999) 1 All SA 411 (A) at 115:
“If the language of a disclaimer or exemption clause is such that it exempts the proferens from liability in express and unambiguous terms effect must be given to that meaning. If there is ambiguity, the language must be construed against the proferens. (See Government of the Republic of South Africa v Fibre Spinners & Weavers (Pty) Ltd 1978 (2) SA 794 (A) at 804 C.)”
According to prevailing case law, when considering whether a disclaimer notice is effective, two factors have to be considered:
Firstly, from the Durban Water Wonderland case, it is evident that for the disclaimer’s content to be effective, the wording thereof must not be ambiguous. It is therefore required that the disclaimer must indicate in express terms what the person relying on the disclaimer is exempted from when someone reads the disclaimer. However, any alternative meaning of the disclaimer notice cannot be too widely interpreted. It is simply required that the meaning of the disclaimer is clear to anyone reading it. This test is implemented so that a vague statement cannot be regarded as sufficient to bind someone according to the legal principle of so called “quasi-mutual assent”, which is the underlying basis binding a person that reads a disclaimer notice.
Consider the following examples: “the owner of the property is hereby exempted” and “the owner, managing agent and any other employee is hereby exempted”. In the first example only the owner of the property is exempted from liability, while in the second example, employees of the owner and the managing agent of the property are included under the exemption clause. The first example would not have been sufficient if damage was caused to a person by the negligence of an employee, as employees were clearly not within the ambit of the notice. It is therefore important to ensure that the wording of a disclaimer is clear, unambiguous and is sufficient to protect all parties that need protection.
A further issue to take into account when the effectiveness of a disclaimer notice is considered is the question whether such disclaimer has been properly displayed. A disclaimer can only be effective when it is found that the disclaimer was displayed in an appropriate position, which would allow the reasonable person to have seen the disclaimer, or to ought to have seen the disclaimer. Practical issues, such as the size of the disclaimer, the distance from the viewer, the visibility, font and positioning of the disclaimer should be taken into account. This test is implemented as the content of the disclaimer can only fall within the knowledge of a person, when the notice is of such a nature that it is easily spotted by someone. When a disclaimer is affixed to a premise, it is therefore important that the above factors be taken into account.
It is clear that a disclaimer is an effective method of protection, especially when used in areas where large amounts of people visit frequently. However, the use of a disclaimer notice is a potentially risky practise, as it must be ensured that the wording and placement thereof is sufficient for the reliance thereon. It is recommended that an attorney be consulted before putting up such a notice.
Durban’s Water Wonderland (Pty) Ltd v Botha and Another (1999) 1 All SA 411 (A)
Government of the Republic of South Africa v Fibre Spinners & Weavers (Pty) Ltd 1978 (2) SA 794 (A)
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice