of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts
Timothy P. Tobin, Brock P. Alton, Abigail A. Pettit, Gislason
& Hunter, LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellants.
M. Tomczik, Cheryl Hood Langel, McCollum, Crowley, Moschet,
Miller & Laak, Ltd., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for
a contractual indemnity clause to obligate an indemnitor to
indemnify an indemnitee for the indemnitee's own
negligence, the indemnity clause must use express language
that clearly and unequivocally shows the parties' intent
to transfer liability to the indemnitor.
business renting tables from a rental company is not
obligated to indemnify the rental company for claims related
to the rental company's own negligence because the rental
agreement's indemnity clause did not expressly transfer
such liability to the business.
appeal presents the question of whether an indemnity clause
in a rental agreement requires the renter to indemnify the
rental company for the rental company's own negligence.
Appellants Jach's, Inc., d/b/a The Tower Tap &
Restaurant, and Chester Morgan (collectively "Tower
Tap") entered into an agreement to rent folding picnic
tables from respondent London Road Rental Center, Inc.
("London Road") for its annual Ma and Pa Kettle
Days event in 2012. Craig DeWitt, the plaintiff at trial,
attended Tower Tap's event and injured his hip after one
of the rented tables unexpectedly collapsed on him while he
was sitting at the table. DeWitt sued Tower Tap and London
Road filed a cross-claim against Tower Tap, invoking the
indemnity clause in the rental agreement. The district court
granted summary judgment to London Road, concluding that
although the indemnity clause did not expressly
include London Road's own negligence within its scope,
the clause's broad language necessarily included coverage
for London Road's negligence. The court of appeals
affirmed. Because the indemnity clause did not include
express language that clearly and unequivocally showed the
parties' intent to transfer such liability to Tower Tap,
we decline to infer such liability. Accordingly, we reverse
the decision of the court of appeals and remand to the
August 2012, Tower Tap hosted live music and dancing in a
parking lot in Kettle River as part of the town's annual
Ma and Pa Kettle Days festival. To provide seating for
patrons during the festival, Tower Tap rented 10 folding
picnic tables from London Road. Upon receiving the tables,
Chester Morgan, an owner of Tower Tap, signed the front page
of London Road's rental agreement, which referenced terms
and conditions on the back page of the agreement. The terms
and conditions included indemnity and exculpatory clauses.
London Road requires that customers sign the rental agreement
upon delivery of the rental equipment to the renter by London
Road. After receiving the tables from London Road, Tower Tap
set them up and patrons used them for about 2 days without
DeWitt and a group of his friends
and family attended Tower Tap's event, and they sat at
one of the rented picnic tables. While seated at the table,
the table unexpectedly collapsed on DeWitt, pinning his hips
between the tabletop and the bench seat of the table. The
collapse seriously injured DeWitt, requiring him to undergo
surgery to his left hip and aggravating preexisting pain and
injuries. The cause of the collapse is unknown.
sued Tower Tap and London Road, alleging negligence and
negligence based on the doctrine of res ipsa
loquitur. Tower Tap and London Road filed
cross-claims against each other-Tower Tap sought common-law
indemnity and contribution, and London Road sought
contractual indemnity and common-law contribution. Tower Tap
and London Road each moved for summary judgment. The district
court granted London Road summary judgment on its contractual
indemnity cross-claim, concluding that the terms of the
rental agreement's indemnity clause required Tower Tap to
defend and indemnify London Road. Relying on the clause's
exception for claims directly resulting from London
Road's intentional misconduct, the district court
concluded that the clause unequivocally covered liability for
London Road's own negligence and "[t]o find
otherwise would make the entire clause nonsensical." The
district court dismissed Tower Tap's cross-claims against
London Road. The court subsequently entered a stipulated $47,
000 judgment against Tower Tap to reimburse London Road for
the reasonable costs and attorney fees that it had expended
in this matter.
Tap appealed, and the court of appeals
affirmed.Dewitt v. London Rd. Rental Ctr.,
Inc., 899 N.W.2d 883, 885, 892 (Minn.App. 2017). The
court of appeals substantially followed the district
court's reasoning, relying on the indemnity clause's
exception for London Road's intentional misconduct and
explaining that the clause was "so broad" that it
" 'necessarily includes claims of the
indemnitor's [London Road's] negligence.' "
Id. at 891-92 (alteration in original) (quoting
Bogatzi v. Hoffman, 430 N.W.2d 841, 845 (Minn.App.
1988), rev. denied (Minn. Dec. 21, 1988)). The court
of appeals noted that it was not inferring indemnity in
violation of the holding of Farmington Plumbing &
Heating Co. v. Fischer Sand & Aggregate, Inc., 281
N.W.2d 838, 842 (Minn. 1979), superseded by statute on
other grounds, Minn. Stat. § 337.02 (2017).
Dewitt, 899 N.W.2d at 892. Rather, ...