Going skiing, running or riding in a race, playing in a sports league or joining a gym are all events that customarily involve signing Liability Waivers. So, if an accident happens and injury occurs, is a Waiver effective in protecting the institution from liability and preventing a lawsuit from the injured party? The answer is that, if properly worded and signed, the Waiver is likely valid and will preclude legal claims for injuries.
In the recent Pennsylvania case of Vinikoor v. Pedal Pennsylvania Inc., Paul Vinikoor was injured during a bike tour and brought a lawsuit against the tour organizer, Pedal Pennsylvania. Mr. Vinikoor complained that he crashed his bike and suffered serious injuries because of grooves in the roadway that Pedal failed to discover and warn him about. Vinikoor claimed that Pedal had inspected the route, issued a cue sheet and route description informing him of certain dangers, but failed to notify him of the hazardous grooves which caused his fall. Pedal sought a dismissal of the lawsuit, countering that Vinikoor had signed a Waiver form stating, in part, the following:
I hereby waive and discharge Pedal Pennsylvania, Inc. and any organizations associated with this event (including but not limited to municipalities, colleges and universities, high schools, sponsors, and any employees or associates thereof), from all liability as a result of my participation in Pedal Pennsylvania, whether caused by negligence or otherwise.
I understand that accidents, with fatalities, serious bodily injury and/or property damage can occur during bicycle touring, as a result of negligence or otherwise. Knowing the risks involved I nevertheless agree to assume those risks and to release all of the persons or entities mentioned above for any injury, death, illness or property damages occurred (sic) on this tour or in the travel to and from this tour. I also release Pedal Pennsylvania from all damage or injuries as a result of weather conditions during the tour.
Ultimately, the Court ruled that the Liability Waiver was valid and enforceable and dismissed Vinikoor’s claims.
The following are the general rules on Liability Waivers:
- The Waiver must be clearly worded and unambiguous in its intent to relieve any and all legal liability, even liability for negligence;
- The Waiver should be prominent and not hidden in the fine print of a long contract; and
- The Waiver must be signed by the person who it is being used against.
Since Liability Waivers can be valid, there are two important lessons. For business owners, the lesson is to make sure to draft clear and specific Waivers to be signed by your customers. For consumers, the lesson is to read and be careful about what you sign, because you may be signing away legal rights.