When you contract to purchase a product or service, the provider may inundate you with a lot of legal disclaimers that may seem unimportant. But this fine print often affects your legal rights should a dispute arise. Even if you believe the seller has wronged you, a contractual disclaimer (and New York law) may absolve them of any legal responsibility.
Giuffra v. Vantage Travel Service, Inc.
Here is a recent example. A New York couple purchased a prepackaged European tour from a travel agency. The itinerary included Riga, the capital of the Baltic state of Latvia. One night while returning to their hotel on foot, the husband was mugged by an unknown assailant. Upon returning to the United States, the couple sued the travel agency in New York Supreme Court for negligence, breach of contract and warranty, and breach of fiduciary duties.
The travel agency removed the case to Manhattan federal court. On June 1, U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest granted the travel agency's motion for summary judgment. Applying New York law, Judge Forrest held the travel agency was not responsible for the mugging. “Pickpocketing and muggings can happen anywhere,” the judge observed, adding, “No one can foresee and protect against random acts of street crime.”
The couple argued the travel agency had a legal duty to “investigate and warn” them they were travelling in an unsafe area. But as the judge explained, the couple's contract with the travel agency included a lengthy statement expressly disclaiming any responsibility or liability for “criminal activities or any other act or event beyond” its direct control. Additionally, the travel agency provided “several warnings regarding the possibility of theft and pickpocketing during the trip.” As far as New York law is concerned, a travel agent is generally not considered “an insurer or guarantor” of its customer's safety while traveling abroad, and it has “no duty to warn group members of a possible hazardous condition on property it neither owns nor occupies.” (There are limited exceptions to this “no duty” rule, Judge Forrest explained, but they were not applicable to the facts of this case.)
Likewise, a travel agent is not liable for the actions or inactions of any subcontractors it hires. Most travel agents provide booking and packaging services; local companies furnish the actual tours. In this case, a local tour guide directed the couple to take the route where the mugging occurred. But even if the tour guide was negligent, the travel agency is only responsible for the acts or omissions of its own employees, not any independent contractors.
Always Read the Fine Print
This was a relatively simple case, but it reiterates the importance of always reading the fine print of any business contract you sign. Legal disclaimers exist for a reason. They protect parties from potential litigation. That is why, if you have a dispute arising from a contract, it is always a good idea to consult with an experienced New York civil litigation attorney. Contact our offices today if you need to speak with an attorney right away.