Baker v. City of Seattle, 41697

Decision Date22 April 1971
Docket NumberNo. 41697,41697
Citation484 P.2d 405,79 Wn.2d 198
Parties, 9 UCC Rep.Serv. 226 Robert BAKER, Petitioner, v. CITY OF SEATTLE and Paul Billingsley and Jane Doe Billingsley, d/b/a Westweld Metal Works, Respondents.
CourtWashington Supreme Court

Levinson & Friedman, Robert D. Duggan, Seattle, for petitioner.

Jack E. Hepfer, Seattle, for respondents.

WRIGHT, Associate Justice.

On July 7, 1967, the plaintiff, Robert Baker, went to the Jackson Municipal Golf Course to play golf. The golf course is owned by the City of Seattle. Plaintiff signed a printed form denominated a 'Golf Cart Rental Agreement' and took possession of an electric golf cart manufactured by the Ford Motor Company. The cart was owned and leased by the defendants Billingsley who do business under the trade name of Westweld Metal Works and are engaged in the business of renting out golf carts.

Plaintiff was lessee of the golf cart. When returning the cart, plaintiff alleges the brakes failed and the cart overturned resulting in personal injuries to the plaintiff.

The golf cart rental agreement was as follows:


Although many references are made to 'fine print,' the disclaimer of liability is exactly the same size print as the body of the golf cart rental agreement. The disclaimer about in the middle of the agreement, would have been observed only by reading the entire agreement.

The primary issue is whether one whose business is regularly, at least in part, the leasing of chattels can avoid liability for injuries to customers by placing a disclaimer clause in a standard form rental agreement.

We held in Broderson v. Rainier National Park Co., 187 Wash. 399, 60 P.2d 234 (1936), that such an agreement was valid. The Broderson case cannot be distinguished from the case at bar. The trial court relied on Broderson in granting a summary judgment of dismissal on the basis of the disclaimer clause in the rental agreement. The Court of Appeals relied on Broderson in affirming, 2 Wash.App. 1003, 471 P.2d 693 (1970).

We now hold Broderson v. Rainier National Park Co., Supra, must be and is hereby expressly overruled, in so far as it holds a plaintiff who has unwittingly signed, 'is not thereby relieved from the consequences of his act.'

Both the trial court and the Court of Appeals cited Griffiths v. Henry Broderick, Inc., 27 Wash.2d 901, 182 P.2d 18 (1947) and Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Ross Transfer Co., 64 Wash.2d 486, 392 P.2d 450 (1964). These cases are indemnity contracts rather than disclaimer contracts. Neither Griffiths nor Union Pacific is directly in point.

Public policy dictates that the disclaimer clause placed in the rental agreement in this case is void. In Henningsen v. Bloomfield Motors, Inc., 32 N.J. 358, 161 A.2d 69 (1960) it was said, in part:

Public policy is a term not easily defined. Its significance varies as the habits and needs of a people may vary. It is not static and the field of application is an ever increasing one. A contract, or a particular provision therein, valid in one era may be wholly opposed to the public policy of another. See Collopy v. Newark Eye & Ear Infirmary, 27 N.J. 29, 39, 141 A.2d 276 (1958). Courts keep in mind the principle that the best interests of society demand that persons should not be unnecessarily restricted in their freedom to contract. But they do not hesitate to declare void as against public policy contractual provisions which clearly tend to the injury of the public in some way. Hodnick v. Fidelity Trust Co., 96 Ind.App. 342, 183 N.E. 488 (App.Ct.1932).

Even though Henningsen involved the sale of a chattel, we do not think a proper distinction can be drawn between the lease or rental of a chattel and the sale of a chattel.

The absence of such a distinction was clearly pointed out in the Florida case of W. E. Johnson Equipment Co. v. United Airlines, Inc., 238 So.2d 98 (Fla.1970):

The reasons for imposing the warranty of fitness in sales cases are often present in lease transactions. Public policy demands that in this day of expanding rental and leasing enterprises the consumer who leases be given protection equivalent to the consumer who purchases.

Application of the implied warranty of fitness to the lease or bailment for hire situation has received favorable support in many legal periodicals. See, Farnsworth, Implied Warranties of Quality in Non-Sales Cases, 57 Colum.L.Rev. 653 (1957); 4 Williamette L.J. 421 (1967); 10 B.C.Ind. & Com.L.Rev. 127 (1968).

The legislature of this state has announced a public policy with regard to disclaimers of liability in commercial transactions by enacting the Uniform Commercial Code,...

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    ...--that is, not imbedded in an application, rental agreement, or sign-up sheet. A good example is found in Baker v. City of Seattle, 79 Wash.2d 198, 484 P.2d 405 (1971). When Baker rented a golf cart at a city golf course, the rental agreement contained a clause stating in part that the "Les......
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    ...sales transaction, the Berg rule has been extended to cases involving exclusionary clauses under RCW 62A.2-719(3). Baker v. Seattle, 79 Wash.2d 198, 484 P.2d 405 (1971). In Schroeder, we stated the Berg rule also applied to commercial transactions in which both litigants were business perso......
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    ...way.' "Henningsen v. Bloomfield Motors, Inc., 32 N.J. 358, 161 A.2d 69, 94-95 (1960), quoted with approval in Baker v. Seattle, 79 Wash.2d 198, 200-01, 484 P.2d 405 (1971). See also McCutcheon v. United Homes Corp., 79 Wash.2d 443, 486 P.2d 1093 While the parties to an insurance contract ha......
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    ...Shorter v. Drury, 103 Wash.2d 645, 695 P.2d 116, cert. denied, 474 U.S. 827, 106 S.Ct. 86, 88 L.Ed.2d 70 (1985); Baker v. Seattle, 79 Wash.2d 198, 484 P.2d 405 (1971).12 E.g., Conradt v. Four Star Promotions, Inc., 45 Wash.App. 847, 728 P.2d 617 (1986); Blide v. Rainier Mountaineering, Inc.......
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