Recreational Liability Activity Waivers — Are You Signing Your Rights Away?

Posted on: 25 June 2015


During the summer more people participate in various recreational activities. While a trip to the lake may not require you to sign any of your rights away, any type of organized activity, being run for profit, probably will. If you are like many people who participate in these activities, you simply sign your name to the waiver when it slides across the counter. Have you ever stopped to wonder exactly what you are agreeing to, and are you really releasing them from all liability? These may be really important questions if you are ever injured during one of these activities.

What Is A Liability Waiver?

Almost everyone has probably signed one of these at some point in their lives. This is the document you sign acknowledging you have been made aware of any risk involved in the activity you are getting ready to participate in. These are designed in an attempt to remove any liability from the activity operator, and place the liability back on you. Always make sure you are reading anything that is put in front of you. When you sign a waiver, it will always be assumed you have knowledge of the information contained within.

What Liability Are You Waiving?

What liabilities are waived will depend on the language of the contract that is signed. The goal of most liability waivers attempt to absolve the provider of the activity you are participating in, from fault or liability of injuries, that may result from the negligence of the provider, as well as its employees. If it is written correctly, you may also absolve the provider and its agents, from any mistakes, errors, or faults, which may also result in injury.

There may even be a clause within the waiver in which you agree not to sue. Unfortunately, for the provider, and unfortunately for anyone who is injured, there are times the waiver ends up in court. 

When Are Waivers Not Enforceable?

Many times the enforcability of the waiver boils down to two things. These are:

  • How well the contract is written
  • The state the case is being heard in

Cases which have appeared in front of the states courts have shown some courts are much more lenient when hearing cases involving liability waivers, and others are much more strict. Some states have even ruled that a provider cannot contract away this statutory duty. In layman's terms, this means that if the provider of the activity has a duty to provide certain protections to the activities participants, they cannot waive this duty by allowing someone to sign a waiver.

For example: In Montana, statute M.C.A. 28-2-702 specifically states that all contracts that directly, or indirectly, exempts anyone from responsibility for willful injury to a person, or property, are against the law.

Other states who have similar statutes which completely disallow waivers in the cases of personal injury are:

  • Louisiana
  • Hawaii
  • New York

Do You Have To Sign To Waive Your Rights?

If you fail to sign a liability waiver, but you still participate in the activity, you may still be waiving your rights. This is because the waivers are often included in the small print that appears on ticket stubs, passes, and entry signs located at the event. If the provider of the activity is able to show the waiver information has been made available to you, the court may rule against you, but that is not always the case.

If you, or a family member, have been injured during an activity in which a waiver have been signed, it does not necessarily mean the provider of the activity is not liable. Even the best waivers often have limitations. Some of these include:

  • The language in which the waiver is written. The language of the waiver must be clear, and not open to more than one interpretation.
  • If the activity provider engaged in gross negligence, reckless conduct, or other intentional acts
  • The waiver was signed by a minor, or the parents of the minor. These have been ruled to be unenforceable.

You need to consult a knowledgeable, and experienced personal injury attorney to review your claim. Once you contact them, they will be able to examine the waiver you signed, and give you advice specific to your claim. You may be glad to know you may have a valid case to hold the provider liable even if you did sign a waiver.