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Kevin O'Flaherty

Indemnification clauses act as a safeguard, committing one party to cover the costs if the other suffers certain losses or damages. This guide, “Indemnification Clauses Explained,” is designed to demystify indemnification clauses, explaining their function, importance, and how they can affect your contractual relationships—you’ll learn what to look out for and how to ensure these clauses work in your favor without getting bogged down in legal jargon.

What is an Indemnification Clause?

Indemnification clauses, also known as indemnity agreements, are contractual promises in which one party commits to compensating another for any losses incurred. These serve as a protective measure that addresses uncertainties and potential risks associated with the contract. While negotiating these clauses can be complicated, they establish a clear risk management framework that benefits both parties involved.

A common instance of an indemnification clause is seen in insurance contracts where the insurer provides coverage against specific types of loss such as vehicle damages or medical expenses resulting from accidents.

The Basics of Indemnification

Indemnification is a fundamental aspect of contract law that refers to the duty of one party to reimburse another for any losses or damages incurred. It serves as a form of protection, shielding the indemnified party from financial harm. The compensation can vary in nature and may include monetary payments, repairs, or replacements depending on what has been agreed upon by all parties involved.

To illustrate this concept Let’s consider a software development agreement as an example where an indemnification clause would typically be included. In such contracts, the developer agrees to provide reimbursement if their delivered product causes any damage to the client’s business under specified conditions and circumstances outlined within the contract terms.

What are the Different Types of Indemnity Clauses?

Some of the most common types of indemnification clauses are:

  • Bare Indemnities: Party A indemnifies Party B for all liabilities or losses incurred in connection with specified events or circumstances, but without setting out any specific limitations. These indemnities do not clearly state whether or not they indemnify losses arising out of Party B’s acts and/or omissions, so they may be interpreted to have the effect of a reverse indemnity.
  • Reverse or Reflexive Indemnities: Party A indemnifies Party B against losses incurred as a result of Party B’s own acts and/or omissions (usually due to Party B’s own negligence).
  • Proportionate or Limited Indemnities: These indemnities are the opposite of Reverse Indemnities. Party A indemnifies Party B against all losses, except for those incurred as a result of Party B’s own acts and/or omissions.
  • Third Party Indemnities: Party A indemnifies Party B against liabilities to or claims by Party C.
  • Financing Indemnities: Party A indemnifies Party B against losses incurred if Party C fails to honor the financial obligation (i.e. the primary obligation) to Party B (usually coupled with a guarantee).
  • Party/Party Indemnities: Each party to a contract indemnifies the other(s) for losses occasioned by the indemnifier’s breach of the contract.

Types of Losses Covered

Indemnification clauses are designed to protect against a wide range of losses and damages. These can include breaches of representations, warranties, covenants, omissions or other violations outlined in the contract. There may be exceptions that limit what these clauses cover.

It should be noted that indemnification may not apply if the party seeking protection is found to have contributed to their own harm through negligence or more serious actions. In such cases where one’s own negligence is involved, indemnification cannot be invoked as a safeguard.

In short, while they provide important protection for contractual agreements and obligations between parties involved in business deals or transactions when it comes to issues like misrepresentation claims etc., clear limitations on coverage will exist depending on individual circumstances surrounding each case wherein an injured entity seeks compensation via invoking specific legal protections built into certain types (e.g. Indemnity Clauses) provisions within the agreement.

When Are Indemnification Clauses Useful in Business Contracts?

Example A: Imagine that you are a business owner, and you hire a contractor to complete a few renovation projects. During construction, the contractor injures the local UPS driver and damages his vehicle. The UPS driver, a third party in this scenario, would likely sue both the contractor and your business, because the incident happened on your property. Let’s assume the case goes to trial, your company is found not liable, and the contractor is found to be 100% responsible. At this point, you will have spent a lot of money defending yourself in the lawsuit.

Depending on the indemnity clause you and the contractor agreed on, your company might be entitled to reimbursement from the contractor of all the money you put toward defending yourself in the lawsuit. If you had agreed to shift all liability costs to yourself in the contract, you would not be able to receive reimbursement, even though you had nothing to do with the incident. If you had indemnified the contractor, you would be responsible for all of his costs, on top of your own.

Example B: Imagine that you are a manufacturer of a technical gadget, and a distribution company sells your product for you. One day, your gadget malfunctions and explodes, injuring one of your customers. The injured customer then sues the distributor, because they sold your product to the customer. The distributor is then required to pay the customer a specified amount of money.

If you provided indemnity for your distributor in the indemnity clause of your contract, the distributor would be able to turn around and request reimbursement from your company to replace the cost of paying to a third party. You might also be responsible for the distributor's court costs and legal fees along the way, depending on the fine print.

As you can see from these examples, indemnifying another party can become costly in a matter of seconds, especially if the clause is broadly worded and covers all claims, regardless of their merit.

What are Some Tips for Indemnifying Another Party?

If you’re considering indemnifying another party in a contract, consider the following:

  • Carefully read the entire drafted indemnity clause prior to signing, and be sure to understand and analyze each piece. For example, there’s a big difference between “defending against reasonable claims” and “defending against all claims.” While they sound similar, one could save you millions of dollars over another.
  • Limit the scope of the indemnity clause by limiting the warranty. Phrase the warranty to clearly state indemnity only over the factors you truly wish to be responsible for and can somewhat control. Consider including indemnities for breach of contract and negligence in addition to the existing common law rights.
  • Set a firm cap on the amount you will pay the other party in the event of indemnification. If the other party wants a broader warranty or higher liability cap, negotiate a higher price in exchange.
  • Purchase professional indemnity insurance, which covers legal costs and damages associated with a breach in professional duty.
  • Consult a lawyer or have a lawyer review the indemnity clause prior to signing.

Can I get out of a Contract with an Unfair Indemnity Clause?

Even if an indemnification clause doesn’t seem fair, most courts will enforce it. The court system usually says that the parties to the contract are free to allocate the risks whichever way they agree on. If both parties agree, the court will validate the current indemnity clause, even if one party seems to hold more risk than the other.

As the giver of the indemnity (also referred to as the indemnitor), how can I avoid agreeing to protect the wrong parties and risks?

  • Narrow the scope of your liability to the extent of your control. For example, clarify and separate any risks you do not have the ability to prevent.
  • Limit the indemnity to only protect specific scenarios. For example, if a patent was infringed upon, you will no longer provide indemnity.
  • Restricting damages to out-of-pocket expenses paid to third parties. For example, you will not pay for the other party’s internal costs and expenses, like salaries or utility bills.
  • Eliminate indirect or consequential damages. For example, speculative loss in potential sales, had the actions not occurred.
  • Offer to pay expenses only after a court officially determines the situation as your fault.
  • Consider imposing an express obligation to mitigate loss.
  • Limit the amount of time during which claims can be brought under the indemnity clause. For example, within the last 5 years from the completion of work.

As the receiver of the indemnity (also referred to as the indemnitee), how can I seek the broadest possible coverage?

  • Ask for protection from any harm arising out of or connected to any part of the agreement or relationship, rather than only out of specified breaches.
  • Think about the most common or likely ways you could possibly be harmed, and seek protection for those instances. Some scenarios may be obvious, but be sure to do your research and think outside of your regular scope of work, especially events involving third parties that you cannot control.
  • When seeking protection, use “pay as you go” language, meaning the indemnifying party has to immediately reimburse the other, rather than waiting an unspecified amount of time after an extensive litigation process.

When indemnities are going both ways for all parties (both parties are giving an indemnity for some things and receiving indemnity for others in the same agreement), it’s important to balance the risks and rewards evenly.

A person standing in a bear trap to signify an indemnidication pitfall

Common Pitfalls of Indemnification Clauses

Never try to cover third parties and circumstances beyond the ordinary breach circumstances actionable under common law. There is no need for you to guarantee indemnity for the other party where common law would demand the same action. By protecting these one-off scenarios, circumstances may branch into unintended onerous obligations where common law cannot otherwise impose.

Be as clear as possible when drafting an indemnity clause. Any ambiguity in the contract presents a risk that the indemnity cannot cover losses that the receiving party is counting on. Ambiguity is also risky for the indemnifier, as they may be required to indemnify losses that were never considered or agreed upon. When it comes to commercial negotiations, document the entire scope of the negotiated indemnity and identify exact coverage.

Another aspect of the indemnification clause to keep in mind is the duration of liability. Define exactly how many years the indemnity can be enforced before becoming invalid. The limitation period in relation to an indemnity clause starts from the date of which the indemnifier refuses to honor the indemnity. The indemnified party would then have a specified number of years from that date to bring legal proceedings and enforce the indemnity. In most instances, parties granting indemnity do not realize the extended period of time in which they are covering risk as part of their indemnity obligations.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does an indemnification clause work?

An indemnification clause is a binding agreement between two parties that guarantees compensation for any losses or damages resulting from a specified event. This ensures protection for both the party offering and receiving indemnification in case of such circumstances. The purpose of this legal arrangement is to provide security and coverage to all involved entities through compensating one another as stated within the terms of the clause.

Should you agree to indemnification clause?

It is important to carefully consider any indemnification clause that you agree to, ensuring that it only holds you accountable for losses caused by your own actions and not the actions of the other party involved. Take care when evaluating the extent of coverage provided in an indemnification agreement.

Remember to thoroughly review the terms and conditions outlined in this type of contractual provision as they pertain specifically to both parties’ responsibilities. It is essential to be safe.

What is the role of indemnification in service agreements?

In service agreements, indemnification clauses serve to provide coverage for losses or damages resulting from breaches of representations, warranties, covenants, or other actions or failures by the parties involved. They encompass the obligations to indemnify and defend.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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