When you sign up for the gym, go rock climbing or agree to go on a whitewater rafting expedition, you will likely sign a liability waiver before you can participate. At the time of signing, you may give little thought to this lengthy document with small type. However, when you suffer a severe and costly injury, you may suddenly recall this document and wonder, will it stand in your way of a fair settlement?
Unfortunately, when you sign a liability waiver like this, you assume legal responsibility for any injuries you suffer while partaking in the activity and/or while on the company’s property. Generally speaking, this means you cannot sue the entity for damages. However, while this is almost always the case, there are a few exceptions.
Liability waivers are legal contracts
Per Enjuris, liability waivers are legal contracts and, as such, hold up in the court of law. This is the case even if a lawyer was not present at the time you signed the agreement or if you, like so many parties before you, failed to read the document in full before adding your signature. That said, even though liability waivers are legal contracts, certain factors may reduce their usefulness or render them void entirely.
The usefulness of waivers is tied to other methods
When determining the enforceability of a liability waiver, the courts will want to see that the contracting party used the waivers in conjunction with other forms of negligence prevention. Waivers are not a replacement for routine maintenance, strict safety protocol and other best practices.
For example, say gym equipment collapsed on you because of frayed wiring. You may argue that, through routine inspections and maintenance, the gym owner should have known of the frayed wire and taken measures to fix it — or, at the very least, decommissioned the equipment until it could replace the wire. In this case, a judge is likely to see your point of view and overrule the liability waiver.
Ambiguous language could render a waiver void
For a liability waiver to hold up in court, it must contain clear and unambiguous language. If there is significant room for interpretation, the courts may misinterpret it or simply deem it unenforceable.
Additionally, the contract’s language should be in line with state law. If it is not, the courts may, again, consider it unenforceable.
Though a headache, it is always in your best interest to read contracts thoroughly before signing. In failing to do so, you may unwittingly sign over your rights to a legal recovery in the event of an injury or adverse incident.