How Injury Waivers Affect Your Rights: Can You Sue After Signing a Release of Liability?

An injury liability waiver isn’t just another form. It’s a legal document intended to block your right to sue a business or other entity for damages.

Injury waivers, also known as release of liability forms, used to be reserved for extreme activities, like skydiving or bungee jumping. Now, these waivers are almost everywhere.

Fitness centers, daycare centers, summer camps, and tourist attractions often require a signed waiver before you’re allowed to use their facilities.

Most liability waivers use legal language the average person might find difficult to understand. All the more reason you shouldn’t sign one without reading it.

If someone asks you to sign a release of liability, you might have some questions. What does it mean? Can the business require you to sign one? What happens if you or your child sustain an injury? Do you still have legal rights if you’re hurt?

Read on to learn what you need to know about personal injury waivers, and whether you still have legal rights after signing a waiver.

What Is an Injury Liability Waiver?

A waiver is essentially an agreement to give up a right. When you sign an injury liability waiver, you agree to give up your right to hold the other party responsible for your injuries.

Liability waiver forms are legal contracts between you and the business that wants you to sign one. They can take the form of a paper document or an online form.

When you sign or type your name, you agree to the contract’s terms. Online, there may be a box you have to check to state that you “agree to the terms” of the waiver.

Injury liability waivers protect businesses against insurance claims and legal action. A waiver relieves the business of any legal blame for your injuries. They also prove that the company warned you of any potential risks related to their facility or taking part in their activities, and that you consented to accept the risk.

A disclaimer is not the same as a waiver. A store may post a disclaimer that it’s not responsible for motor vehicles in its parking lot, but that’s not a waiver of your right to pursue compensation for property damage to your car.

Injury liability waivers are typically required by:

  • Gyms and recreation centers
  • Adult or child sports leagues or lessons
  • Trampoline parks, roller skating rinks, and other activity centers
  • Shooting ranges
  • Schools for field trips
  • Rafting ride excursions

By signing a waiver, you’re willingly giving up your right to blame the business if you’re injured while on their property or participating in their activities. It’s your job to read and understand a waiver before signing it.

Don’t expect someone at the business to explain the waiver’s terms to you. Employees won’t have the time or legal knowledge to help.

Sample Liability Waiver Language:

“Being of lawful age and in consideration of being permitted to participate in the activity described below, (participant or their legal guardian) releases and forever discharges (business or program name), its owners, directors, officers, employees, agents, assigns, legal representatives and successors from all manner of actions, causes of action, debts, accounts, bonds, contracts, claims, demands for or by reason of any injury to person or property, including injury resulting in the death of (participant or their legal guardian), which has been or may be sustained as a consequence of (participant or their legal guardian) participation in the activity described below, and notwithstanding that such damage, loss or injury may have been caused solely or partly by the negligence of (business or program).”

Contract attorneys write waivers to protect the business’s interest, not yours. Specific terms are used to make waivers difficult to get around if you suffer an injury.

If you aren’t familiar with legal terms, you may be unaware that you are signing a waiver.

When you’re completing paperwork such as a registration, membership agreement, or a permission slip for your child, be on the lookout for release of liability language, like “releasee” and “releasor.” A business might purposely insert a waiver section where you won’t easily notice it.

Injury liability waivers might be titled:

  • Indemnity agreement
  • Release of liability
  • Hold harmless agreement
  • Assumption agreement
  • Pre-injury release
  • Exculpatory agreement

Injury waivers can be hard to read. As a result, most people sign waivers without reading them or understanding what they’re signing. You must take the contract seriously. You also need to know if you can get hurt participating in a certain activity.

No one can force you to sign a waiver. However, the company or organization can refuse to let you participate in their programs or activities. You might not get to use their facilities if you refuse to sign.

How You Might Defeat a Liability Waiver

All hope isn’t lost if you or your child suffers an injury after signing a release of liability. You should still explore your legal rights with an experienced attorney.

Liability waiver laws are complicated. Some states enforce injury waivers more strictly than others. Check your state’s laws and seek legal advice to determine if the waiver you signed is valid or not.

Your rights will depend on your case’s specific details. For example, if the business was careless or used faulty equipment, you’ll have a better chance of receiving compensation for your injuries, despite the signed waiver.

Gross Negligence Can Defeat a Waiver

The type and scope of negligence involved in causing your injury are significant. Getting around a signed waiver is more likely if your claim involves gross negligence. However, it can be hard to prove that a company or its employee is guilty of gross negligence or recklessness.

Negligence is not doing what most people would do in a particular situation. Examples of ordinary negligence are a business not removing snow from its walkways or a driver following too close to another vehicle.

Gross negligence is a careless and intentional disregard of another person’s right to safety. It’s behavior that is likely to cause harm. Whether or not a business was grossly negligent is typically determined by the courts.

Examples of gross negligence include:

  • Sports coach deliberately ignoring a player’s injury despite obvious symptoms
  • Camp cook knowingly feeding children recalled food
  • Fitness center repeatedly ignoring documented reports of a broken treadmill
  • Taxi or rideshare driver getting behind the wheel after drinking alcohol

Example: Invalid Sports Waiver and Gross Negligence

Margo Johnson enrolled her son Caleb in high school football. The enrollment paperwork included a liability waiver. She quickly scanned over each document and then signed them.

One day, the football coach held practice when the field was slick from freezing rain. Caleb slipped during a play, causing his head to collide with the goal post. Doctors diagnosed him with a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Worried about how she would pay Caleb’s medical bills, Margo filed a personal injury claim on his behalf. The school’s insurance company argued that Margo signed the liability waiver and was aware of the risks. They said Caleb had no right to compensation based on the waiver.

Margo didn’t think she had signed a waiver.  She met with an attorney, who carefully examined the enrollment paperwork. The attorney found that the unlabeled liability waiver was in the middle of other text within one document.

The attorney wasted no time challenging the validity of the waiver language in the school paperwork. The attorney also learned that the helmets the school provided to all football players didn’t meet the required safety standards. Caleb may not have suffered a brain injury if he had been wearing an approved helmet.

The Johnson’s attorney negotiated aggressively with the school’s insurance company, making it clear they would not hesitate to file a lawsuit to ensure Caleb and his family would be fairly compensated for his injuries.

The school was grossly negligent by knowingly providing unsafe helmets. The coach was negligent by holding practice when the field was dangerously slick. The school provided an unmarked liability waiver in the paperwork.

Considering these factors, the insurance company agreed to compensate Caleb and his mother for the full settlement value of their claim.

Ambiguous Language Is Not Enforceable

If the waiver you signed is poorly worded, too confusing, or significant terms are lost in fine print, you can challenge it. All or part of the release of liability could be invalid and unenforceable. If a court determines they can’t legally enforce the release, you will still have the right to pursue compensation.

Enforceability might depend on the waiver’s language. If the terms are clear and you voluntarily signed it, it will be challenging to argue against it.

If the waiver doesn’t have a title, has incorrect wording, or excludes certain phrases, odds are it’s invalid.

Review these questions when determining if a liability waiver is enforceable:

  • Is the waiver’s language clear and straightforward?
  • Did the waiver list the activity’s “inherent risks”?
  • Is the company or its employees guilty of reckless behavior or intentional actions that caused your injury?
  • Did the business hide the liability waiver in another document? Or did they make it seem like something else?
  • Does the waiver violate any state laws?

If you signed a liability waiver or release of liability, don’t just assume that you surrendered all of your legal rights. Instead, review the waiver for any factors that can decrease the company’s ability to enforce it.

Know what you’re signing before putting ink to paper. You might even want to bring the waiver to a lawyer. They can review its language and terms for any loopholes. Personal injury attorneys are also knowledgeable about your state’s statutes, rules, and case law.

You may be tempted to quickly sign a waiver to participate in a given activity. But first, study what you’re agreeing to. You can’t foresee what might happen while taking part in an activity.

Remember, injury waivers might be buried in the contract language of other documents.

If you or your child suffered an injury after signing a liability waiver, reach out to a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.

Since many lawyers offer free consultations and work on a contingency fee basis, it’s worth finding out if you can seek compensation for your injuries.

6 Common Personal Injury Waiver Clauses

It’s important to understand the rights you give up when you sign an injury waiver. Here are some of the common clauses found in waivers and what they mean.

1. Indemnity Clause

An indemnity clause or indemnification clause is found in most forms of waivers. The clause states that one party won’t go after the other for damages, losses, or legal expenses.

You may be waiving the right to compensation for: 

Sample Indemnity Clause:

“Each party agrees to indemnify, defend, and hold harmless the other party from and against any loss, cost, or damage of any kind (including reasonable outside attorneys’ fees) to the extent arising out of its breach of this agreement and/or its negligence or willful misconduct.”

2. Release of Liability and Waiver of the Right to Sue

When you sign a release of liability and waiver of the right to sue, you agree that you won’t pursue legal action. If you suffer any losses from participating in the activity, you might not have any legal rights.

Sample Waiver of Liability Clause:

“In consideration to be allowed to participate in (activity), I release from liability and waive my right to sue (business), their employees, officers, volunteers, and agents from any and all claims, including claims of negligence, resulting in any physical injury, illness, or death or economic loss I may incur or which may result from my participation in this (activity), or any events incidental to this (activity).”

3. Assumption of Risk

With an expressed assumption of risk, you acknowledge understanding the activity and the risks you’re taking. You choose to accept those risks freely.

Sample Expressed Assumption of Risk Clause:

“I am voluntarily participating in (activity). I understand that there are risks involved with my participation in (activity), such as physical and/or psychological injury, economic loss, pain, suffering, illness, disfigurement, temporary or permanent disability, or death. These injuries or outcomes may arise from my own or other’s actions, inactions, or negligence, or the condition of the (activity) location or facility.  I assume any and all risks of my participation in (activity), whether known or unknown to me, including travel to and from the activity (including air travel) or any events incidental to this (activity).”

4. Hold Harmless Agreement

Losses may result from your participation in a given activity or the use of a company’s facility. A hold harmless agreement means you won’t blame the business for any losses.

Sample Hold Harmless Clause:

“I agree to hold (business) harmless from any and all claims, loss, or damage to my personal property, liabilities, and costs, including attorney’s fees, as a result of my participation in (activity). If (business) incurs any of these types of expenses, I agree to reimburse (business).”

5. Medical Expense Waiver

With a signed medical expense waiver, you agree to bear responsibility for your own medical expenses. Even if you’re injured participating in the activity or using the facility, you must pay your medical expenses.

Sample Waiver for Medical Expenses:

“If I need medical treatment resulting from my participation in (activity), I agree to be financially responsible for any costs incurred as a result of such treatment. I am aware that (business) does not provide health insurance for me and that I should carry my own health insurance.”

6. Understanding and Acknowledgement Clause

An understanding and acknowledgment clause shows that you read the waiver and you understand that you’re taking risks by participating. You won’t blame the business if you’re injured or suffer losses.

Sample Acknowledgment Clause:

“I have read this waiver, and am signing it freely. I understand the legal ramifications of signing this waiver, including (a) releasing (business) from all liability, (b) waiving my right to sue (business), (c) and assuming all risks of participating in (activity).”

Parental Liability Waivers for Children

Parents and legal guardians often sign parental liability waivers on behalf of their minor children. Children under 18 generally don’t have legal authority over themselves. Parents or guardians have the right to file an injury claim on behalf of the child.

Laws about children and liability waivers vary from one state to the next. Some states won’t enforce waivers signed by minors or their parents.

But in the past few years, several states have begun to enforce parental waivers. For example, Alaska and Colorado passed laws to enforce injury waivers signed by parents for their children for sports and recreational activities.

Other states enforce waivers under certain circumstances. For example, Michigan law generally enforces releases of liability signed by parents of minors, but not always.

If recreational activities are backed or arranged by non-governmental and non-profit groups, waivers are enforceable. Activities provided by for-profit companies or governmental bodies, such as schools, are not protected under the law. Parent-signed waivers are invalid under these circumstances.

If a company or its employees’ careless actions cause an injury, the waiver doesn’t apply. Parents have the right to go after those who negligently cause injury to their child.

Similarly, if your child is riding in a school bus that’s involved in an accident, you have the right to pursue the at-fault driver for damages, even if you signed a field trip waiver releasing the school from liability.

Dustin Reichard, Esq. is an experienced attorney with 20 years of work in the legal field. He’s admitted to the Illinois State Bar and the Washington State Bar. Dustin has worked in the areas of medical malpractice, wrongful death, product liability, slip and falls, and general liability. Dustin began his legal career as a JAG... Read More >>