Michelle Kalinkina, a 23-year-old professional model, was participating in a haircutting and styling event at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City when she was injured by her hair stylist. Martino Cartier, a stylist and operator of Bersheart LLC, was allegedly cutting Kalinkina's hair when he cut her neck with a pair of scissors that he was using. She brought a $5 million suit in federal court citing injury, pain and scarring. The suit contends that Cartier was working too rapidly at the time and demonstrated “carelessness, negligence and recklessness” leading to her injury.
Kalinkina's suit explains that Cartier attempted to hide the injury that he caused and stopped her from exiting the stage to obtain medical assistance. She says that the act exposed evidence of the defendant's “reckless indifference” for her injury. The suit states that she had accrued expenses for medical care and endured pain and anguish while being unable to participate in some normal activities. The defendant claims he is shielded from liability by a release agreement that Kalinkina had signed prior to participating in the event.
The defense moved for dismissal of the complaint based on Rule12(b) of the Federal Civil Procedure Rules stating that the claims be supported by facts and that the allegations are true. The plaintiff has an obligation to show sufficient material accepted as truth to be entitled to relief such that the court may infer that the defendant is liable for the misconduct. The claim must be supported by information that results in strong plausibility, more than just suspicion.
The defense's argument was largely dependent on the waiver or release form that the plaintiff had signed that sought to release the defendant from liabilities. The provisions within the document were fairly standard and stated that the defendant and his affiliates, partners, representatives etc. were to be released of any liability for incidents which occurred during the event. Kalinkina did not deny signing the release form. The court explained that exculpatory agreements are closely examined using a rule of strict construction. In general, the law “frowns on” agreements designed exclusively to allow immunity for a party due to their own negligent actions.
Further, when the intent of the parties is not stated in unambiguous language, it may not be sufficient to shield a party from liabilities that result from negligence. The defense contended that the release covered a broad scope and encompassed this incident; however, the court explained that agreements worded to release someone of “any and all” liability will not bar actions for ordinary negligence. The court's summation was that the defendant's agreement lacked the required “plain and precise” language exempting them from liability in injury cases based on their own negligence, thus the action for ordinary negligence may proceed.