Do Liability Waivers Hold Up in Court?

A liability waiver, or release waiver, is a legal document that a company or organization requires members of the public to sign in order to protect their organization from being sued if you sustain an injury. It is common to be presented with a liability waiver prior to participating in an activity such as a recreational sports league, signing up for a gym membership, or visiting a theme park. 

In general, when a liability waiver is signed, the participant is waiving their right to sue in the event of an injury. If you signed a liability waiver and were subsequently injured, do you have any legal recourse? Depending on the facts of your case, you may still be able to file a lawsuit and recover damages. 

There are two main reasons a company will have you sign a liability waiver: 1) to document in writing that you have been warned of potential risks and 2) to remove their responsibility for injuries that arise from ordinary negligence.

Though it is a legal document, most people do not take the time to actually read liability waivers. However, it is important to read the waiver carefully and not rush to sign on the dotted line. 

One reason you want to read the document carefully is to understand the potential risks you face. If the risks are specifically outlined in the waiver, chances are you will experience them. If nothing else, reading the waiver will prepare you for the activity, which may help you avoid injuries. 

The document will also state that signing the waiver releases the company of any injury liability. How this information is presented to you is important. In California, a liability waiver must be clear, unambiguous, and explicit. In other words, waivers cannot be printed in faded ink, in small font, on the back of a paper, or in an otherwise ambiguous form. If the waiver that you sign is not represented clearly, it may not hold up in the event of a lawsuit.

Establishing the facts of your injury, and whether you experienced ordinary negligence or gross negligence, will help to determine if you can file a lawsuit.

When you sign a liability waiver, you agree to not hold the service provider liable for any injury you sustain as a result of ordinary negligence. 

Ordinary negligence is the failure to act reasonably as it relates to general safety. Typically, if this failure to act reasonably results in an injury, then the person acting negligent can be found liable for injuries. But when you sign a liability waiver, in most cases, you are agreeing to waive your right to sue even if you can prove that ordinary negligence led to your injury. 

For instance, if you go to a trampoline park, you will likely be required to sign a liability waiver. Now let’s say that, while jumping, you land on a metal spring and sprain your ankle. This metal spring should not have been exposed, but rather covered by a cushion. This may be considered ordinary negligence. The jump park, in their regular maintenance of the trampoline, did not cover the exposed spring. But because you signed the liability waiver, you are likely out of options and cannot sue. 

In one such case brought before a Texas court, a woman who suffered injuries at a trampoline park sued the park for damages. The Texas court found in favor of the trampoline park and dismissed the plaintiff’s case. The court found that the waiver explicitly stated that the signer agreed to release the company from injury liability and that the waiver was in no way ambiguous. Signing a liability waiver makes it difficult to recover injury compensation. Keep in mind that this case is specific to Texas and Texas law. It is just one instance of an injury claim after a liability waiver was signed. The law varies on a state-by-state basis, and the outcome of your case depends on the facts surrounding your injury.

Gross negligence, on the other hand, may make an organization liable, even if you sign a waiver.

Gross negligence is more than a simple failure to act reasonably—it is a conscious violation of other people’s right to safety. This often rises above the protections of a liability waiver, giving you the option to sue in case of injury. 

In California, the law states that gross negligence is:

  1. The lack of any care, or
  2. Extreme departure from what a reasonably careful person would do in the same situation to prevent harm to oneself or to others.

To illustrate gross negligence, consider again the trampoline park. Let’s say, instead of an exposed spring, an entire section of trampoline was under construction. If the trampoline park fails to warn jumpers of the construction—with a warning sign, caution tape, or other warning—and you jump and break your leg, then you will most likely have legal recourse to sue, even though you signed a liability waiver. Because they failed to warn you of the construction, their negligence put you in immediate danger. This may rise to the level of gross negligence. 

So, do liability waivers hold up in court? if you are injured as a result of ordinary negligence, the liability waiver may fully protect the defendant and leave you without legal recourse. If you are injured as a result of gross negligence, then you may have a case. 

Speaking with a personal injury lawyer, like those at Penney & Associates, will help you determine the facts of your case and if the liability waiver precludes you from suing. Contact us today for a free legal consultation! 

* This blog is not meant to dispense legal advice and is not a comprehensive review of the facts, the law, this topic or cases related to the topic. For a full review of our disclaimer and policies, please click here.

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