Most of us are not thinking about the worst-case scenario when a release of liability waiver is put in front of us. We just see it as a necessary — and perhaps annoying — barrier between us and whatever it is we want to do. Many of us sign them without even really reading them. After all, there’s not much we can do to avoid it. If we want to take our kids in this amazing trampoline park or ride on the roller coaster or join the fancy new gym that just opened down the street, we’ve got to sign their forms.
In fact, we often don’t give that release of liability waiver a second thought because nothing goes wrong. We get in, have fun, and then go about our lives. It isn’t until we’ve suffered an injury that most of us stop to consider what that form actually said and — more importantly — what it really means.
If you signed a release of liability waiver and then got hurt, you may be wondering what options you have.
Understanding a Release of Liability Waiver
A release of liability waiver may go by many names. You may hear it called a disclaimer of liability, waiver of liability, assumption of risk, hold harmless agreement, indemnity agreement, or exculpatory agreement. These documents all serve a key essential purpose: to protect the entity requiring the waiver from lawsuits in the event that an injury occurs. They will often be used by businesses that provide a service or experience that has some kind of associated risk factor. You’ve likely signed one before participating in physical activities like scuba diving, rock climbing, exploring an amusement park, or joining a fitness facility.
Business owners seek out waivers in order to lower the number of negligence lawsuits they will face during the operation of their business. Generally speaking, these waivers are about shifting responsibility. Instead of taking responsibility for the risk that the participant assumes during the activity provided through the business, the business owner shifts that responsibility onto the participants themselves.
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The Legality of a Release of Liability Waiver
When you sign a release of liability waiver, you are accepting responsibility for the risks outlined in the waiver itself. Even if you did not read the document carefully — or, let’s be honest, at all — you are still legally bound by the form you have signed. This is true even though you likely did so without a lawyer present. For the most part, the signing of a waiver is going to hold up in court as a binding document.
That does not mean, however, that you are out of options if you sign a release of liability waiver and then sustain an injury while participating in the activity the business offered. There are limits to the protection a release of liability waiver provides a business, and the details of your case may mean that the release of liability does not apply to your circumstances.
The Limits of a Release of Liability Waiver
Release of liability waivers cover only ordinary negligence. If a business commits gross negligence or intentional harm, the release of liability waiver is no longer applicable. The difference between ordinary and gross negligence can be a fine line. In general, ordinary negligence occurs due to accidents or inattention. Gross negligence occurs when an entity fails to use reasonable care. Tripping over a bump in the rug of a roller rink and falling would probably be deemed the result of ordinary negligence. If that same roller rink had exposed electrical wiring that injured a patron, however, the court might see it differently.
Furthermore, waivers are typically limited to a narrow range of activities. You might not be able to successfully sue an indoor rock climbing business because you slipped and sustained injury during the normal course of participation. However, if there was a spill on the floor in the lobby where you slipped and fell, the release of liability waiver would likely not apply to that situation.
As you can see, a release of liability waiver is not totalizing. Businesses still have responsibilities to their patrons, and neglecting these responsibilities has consequences.
The nuances of liability are complex and often depend on careful analysis of the wording of the signed waiver and the specific details of the circumstance surrounding the incident. Negotiating these complexities can be difficult, but a trained and experienced professional can make the process much easier. If you have signed a release of liability waiver but sustained an injury, you may be wondering what options are available to you.
If you have been injured due to someone else’s negligence, you should always consult with a personal injury attorney who can help you determine your next steps. Contact us today for a free consultation.