Most companies have been involved in a situation where they want to end their relationship with another company, or with an employee, and to permanently terminate their mutual obligations (e.g., a settlement agreement resolving end-of-project litigation). In 1992, a California Court of Appeals, in Winet v. Price, confirmed that upholding general releases is “in harmony… with a beneficial principle of contract law: that general releases can be so constructed as to be completely enforceable.”
In California, agreements with a release of claims (or s general release) include what is often referred to as a California Civil Code § 1542 waiver for the purpose of ensuring that the releasing party is consciously releasing both known and unknown claims that may be later discovered. Such a waiver provision generally confirms that the Releasing Party acknowledges that it understands and waives the provisions of Section 1542, followed by the quoted text of Section 1542 (typically in all capital letters).
Effective January 1, 2019, Section 1542 now reads:
“A general release does not extend to claims that the creditor or releasing party does not know or suspect to exist in his or her favor at the time of executing the release and that, if known by him or her, would have materially affected his or her settlement with the debtor or released party.”
Going forward, the updated text of Section 1542 should be included in all general releases that have a California nexus. Companies that use template agreements should take care to update the general release provision in these template agreements.