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3 Sep 2021 "Exclusion of liability" on entrance sign, valid or not?

You probably know them, those signs on (private) grounds that attempt to limit liability (so-called exonerations). What about the legal validity of such signs? Can the owner of the site successfully invoke the exoneration?

Facts

Earlier this year, the Rotterdam Court ruled on this issue. It concerned the following situation. On 22 January 2020, a driver from Van der Kaa came to pick up a container at the port terminal of APM Terminals. The area in question is closed off with barriers that can be opened by the driver with a cargo card. To obtain such a card, the driver must watch a safety instruction video and take a test. At the entrance to the site, there is a sign with (among other things) an exoneration clause, the purpose of which is to exclude the liability of the site owner.

Unfortunately, when loading the container, damage occurred to the chassis of the truck rented by Van der Kaa from its parent company. Van der Kaa claims compensation for the damage in the amount of €463 exclusive of VAT. Eventually, proceedings between Van der Kaa and APM Terminals ensue.

Judgment of the Subdistrict Court

The Subdistrict Court ruled that liability towards visitors to a site can, in principle, be excluded by means of a text on a site sign. It is then required that the text is sufficiently recognisable and clear for the visitor in question. On port sites, the use of general terms and conditions by means of posting signs is common. In this case it is not disputed that the APM Terminals sign is placed sufficiently visibly at the entrance of the site, that the text is placed on it in a clearly readable manner, that Van der Kaa's drivers enter the site weekly and that the drivers know the site sign and the business activities carried out on the site.

By entering the site, the driver concerned, on behalf of Van der Kaa, has indicated to agree with the conditions that APM Terminals has attached to admission to its terrain. The handing over (afterwards) of a paper version with the same exoneration no longer serves any purpose. Van der Kaa can therefore no longer invoke annulment because the exemption was not handed over to it. Nor is a reliance on the exemption in this case unacceptable according to the standards of reasonableness and fairness. In short: APM Terminals won the case.

If you want to read the entire judgment, you can do here (in Dutch).

However, please note: it is not the case that such a sign always has legal value. There are also cases in which the site owner could not rely on the exoneration on the sign, for example because the exclusion of liability was formulated too generally or because insufficient account was taken of the (lack of) legal expertise of the visitor. Do you also have questions about general terms and conditions, exonerations or contracts? SPEE advocaten & mediation is happy to help you.

SPEE advocaten & mediation Maastricht

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