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Ins and Outs of Indemnification Provisions: A Guide for Michigan Businesses

Indemnification provisions are a critical component of many commercial contracts, yet they often receive little attention until a dispute arises. These clauses, often found in contract “boilerplate,” allocate risk between contracting parties, providing a mechanism for one party to shift potential liabilities to the other. Indemnification is the act of paying or promising to pay someone an amount of money if they suffer damage or loss. For small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in Michigan, understanding the basics of indemnification is essential to navigating contract negotiation and drafting, and protecting their interests.

Different Types of Indemnification Provisions

Indemnification provisions come in several forms. The most common types include:

A. Mutual Indemnification: Both parties agree to indemnify each other for losses or liabilities arising from their respective actions or breaches of the contract. Mutual indemnification is often seen as a fair allocation of risk, as it ensures that each party is responsible for its own conduct.

B. One-Way Indemnification: Obligates only one party to indemnify the other. This type of provision is more common when there is a significant disparity in bargaining power between the parties or when one party’s activities pose a greater risk of third-party claims.

C. Third-Party Indemnification: Addresses claims brought by individuals or entities who are not parties to the contract. This type of clause is particularly relevant in contracts involving goods or services that could potentially cause harm to third parties, such as product liability claims or intellectual property infringement.

Purpose and Common Uses

Indemnification provisions establish a framework for determining financial responsibility in the event that one party’s actions or breaches of the agreement result in losses, damages, or legal claims. They are commonly found in a wide range of commercial agreements, including:

  • Supplier Agreements: Often address product liability claims, intellectual property infringement, or breaches of warranties. They ensure that the supplier bears responsibility for any issues arising from the goods they provide.
  • Leases: Allocate responsibility for property damage, personal injury, or other liabilities arising from the tenant’s use of the premises. These provisions help to shield the landlord from claims related to the tenant’s activities.
  • Construction Contracts: Indemnification is often a key concern in construction projects, where the risk of property damage, personal injury, and third-party claims is significant. Indemnification clauses address issues such as worksite safety, subcontractor performance, and design defects.

Indemnification—Benefits for Businesses

Well-drafted indemnification provisions in commercial contracts offer several key benefits for businesses. First and foremost, they can provide protection against third-party claims. For instance, if a company contracts with a supplier and the supplier’s product causes harm to a consumer, an indemnification clause could require the supplier to cover any resulting legal costs or damages, shielding the company from liability.

Moreover, indemnification provisions allow businesses to shift some or all of the potential liability associated with a contract to the other party. This can be especially beneficial for smaller businesses that may not have the financial resources to weather a costly legal battle or pay substantial damages.

In some cases, the willingness to indemnify the other party can serve as a bargaining chip in contract negotiations, particularly when a business is looking to secure more favorable terms in other areas of the agreement.

Indemnification—Risks of Agreeing to Indemnify

While indemnification provisions can offer significant benefits, they also come with certain risks, including the potential for unlimited liability exposure. If a business agrees to indemnify another party without any limitations or exclusions, it could find itself on the hook for substantial damages or legal costs, even if the underlying claim is only tangentially related to the contract.

Another big risk is the obligation to cover the legal costs of the indemnified party. Even if a claim is ultimately unsuccessful, the indemnifying party may still be responsible for paying the other side’s attorneys’ fees and litigation expenses. This can quickly add up, putting a strain on the indemnifying party’s financial resources.

Businesses should also be aware that indemnification obligations can last long after the contract itself has been fulfilled. Depending on the specific language of the provision, a business could find itself responsible for indemnifying the other party for claims that arise months or even years down the line.

Alternatives to Indemnification

When the risks of indemnification outweigh the potential benefits, businesses may want to consider alternative ways to allocate liability in their contracts. One common approach is to include a limitation of liability clause. These provisions can cap the amount of damages that one party can recover from the other, regardless of the underlying claim. By setting a clear upper limit on potential liability, businesses can better manage their risk exposure and avoid the open-ended nature of some indemnification provisions.

Another option is to use disclaimers and waivers to shift certain risks between the parties. For example, a contract might include a disclaimer of warranties, which states that the goods or services are being provided “as is” and without any guarantee of quality or performance. 

In many cases, the most effective alternative to indemnification is to require one or both parties to maintain adequate insurance coverage. By specifying the types and amounts of insurance that each party must carry, businesses can ensure that there will be a source of funds available to cover potential liabilities. 

Ultimately, the best approach will depend on the specific needs and circumstances of each business and the nature of the contract at issue. 

Negotiation and Drafting Considerations

When it comes to negotiating and drafting indemnification provisions, the devil is truly in the details. To ensure that your business is adequately protected, it’s essential to approach these clauses with a keen eye for clarity and specificity.

First and foremost, take the time to clearly define the scope of the indemnity. This means spelling out exactly what types of claims and damages are covered, as well as any exclusions or limitations that may apply. Rather than relying on broad, catch-all language, enumerate the specific types of claims you want to be included, such as bodily injury, property damage, or intellectual property infringement. By doing so, you can minimize the risk of confusion and potential disputes down the line.

It’s also crucial to pay close attention to the language used to describe the indemnifying party’s obligations. Words like “defend,” “indemnify,” and “hold harmless” might seem interchangeable, but they each have specific legal meanings that can significantly impact the scope of the indemnity. 

As you navigate the negotiation and drafting process, make sure to seek guidance from experienced legal counsel. Indemnification provisions can have far-reaching legal and financial implications, and even seemingly minor wording choices can make a big difference in how the clause is interpreted and enforced. An attorney who specializes in contract law can help you craft language that clearly articulates your intentions and protects your business’s interests. 


For SMBs in Michigan, navigating the world of indemnification can be particularly challenging. With limited resources and bargaining power, it’s essential for businesses to approach indemnification provisions with a critical eye and a solid understanding of the legal and practical implications.Experienced legal counsel can help you use indemnification provisions in your contracts effectively, and guard against taking on unwanted liability in contracts you enter into. If you have questions or require assistance, please contact Zana Tomich.

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