Surely, a self-storage company would be responsible for damage to stored goods if the storage company neglected its roof, allowing water leaks.
John Easley, who represented himself, found out that the not-so-fine print left him with damaged goods, a worthless insurance policy and a big disappointment.
When Easley placed his furniture in AAA Mini Storage, he signed the usual forms that state that the warehouse owner is not responsible for damages and that the tenant is responsible for insuring the stored goods against damage.
Two years later, Easley found that rain had leaked into the storage unit and puddled against the back wall of the unit, leaving his goods damaged by moisture and mold. He made a claim on his insurance policy. The insurance adjuster said that negligent maintenance of the roof caused Easley’s loss, which was an exclusion from coverage.
Easley sued AAA Mini Storage in small claims court in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and lost. He then took advantage of the Missouri law that allows losers in small claims court to have a new trial in associate circuit court.
This time Easley won. The judge agreed that the release of liability that Easley signed did not excuse AAA Mini Storage’s implicit obligation to maintain its roof. AAA Mini Storage appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals.
Easley didn’t file a legal brief in the appeal, which may have been a mistake. The appellate opinion, Easley v. Gray Wolf Investments, agreed with the storage company’s legal argument:
Missouri law recognizes that a contract may eliminate liability for future negligence if the release is clear, unambiguous, unmistakable, and in conspicuous language.
The appellate judges reviewed the release of liability and found it was clearly and simply written and that its language was conspicuous, since some of it was in all capital letters.
The appellate judges also found that Easley was “a relatively sophisticated party,” because “he was building a 2,613-square-foot home with a walk-out basement.” Is this wisdom or what? Wow, a walk-out basement!
Not all releases of future liability are enforceable. Lawyers, for example, are prohibited by the Code of Professional Conduct from entering into contracts that release them from liability for their future negligence.
According to the Court of Appeals, Missourians need to make sure that their self-storage contracts include a clause requiring the storage company to repair leaks in their roofs. If the storage company won’t agree to change its form just for you, you can haul your stuff to a different place, perhaps Illinois.