How Waiver of Liability Agreements Affect Personal Injury Lawsuits

Many businesses, organizations, and sports stadiums try to avoid personal injury liability by getting everyone they deal with to sign waiver of liability. The language of a waiver of liability will differ, but typically the document represents an agreement in which one party agrees to waive, or give up, the right to pursue legal action for injuries that occur on the property regardless of who is at fault. Despite the strong language in waivers of liability, they are not always upheld and will not necessarily prevent you from being able to sue if you are injured after signing one.

Waiver of Liability Forms

A waiver of liability form is a contract in which one party expressly assumes the risk of injury in order to participate in an activity or attend an event.  These forms are common at:

  • Sporting events
  • Guided tours / animal rides
  • Ski resorts
  • Equipment / vehicle / boat rental
  • Bungee jumping / sky diving /other extreme sports
  • NASCAR races

Organizations that offer events that carry inherently dangerous risks will usually require participants to sign a waiver of liability.  The purpose of the contract is to absolve the organization offering the event from any injuries that are due to the organization's negligence - effectively giving an injured party no right to sue.  

Effectiveness of Waiver of Liability Agreements

A waiver of liability agreement does not necessarily prevent an injured party from pursuing legal action.  If you have been injured at an event or activity that required you to sign a waiver of liability before participating, you may still have a legal case depending on the following circumstances:

  • Language of the waiver:  The language of a waiver of liability is critical to its effectiveness.  A waiver that is unclear or ambiguous about the circumstances in which the organization is not responsible may not be effective.  If the waiver agreement you sign clearly identifies when the other party is not responsible, it has a better chance of being enforced.
  • Location of the critical language:  Where the critical language that absolves an organization of responsibility is located within the waiver can be important.  For example, if the language is tucked away in small font in a place where you would never see it, then a court may find that you did not intend to sign away your right to sue.
  • Cause of the accident:  While most well written waiver of liability forms protect organizations from acts of negligence, there are some acts that won't be waived.  For example, intentional actions, gross negligence, or acts that give strict liability for the organization usually can't be waived.  If an organization makes you sign a waiver of liability, but fails to provide even the basic care that you would expect when you signed it, then the waiver could be rejected.
  • State law:  The most important factor as to whether or not a waiver of liability form will be enforced is the law of your home state.  Some states view waivers with a great deal of scrutiny while others are loathe to reject the agreement.  

A waiver of liability agreement can be very difficult to overcome, and reaching out to an experienced personal injury attorney before you take legal action can give you the best chance to succeed at recovering money for your injuries.