Can I Sue if I Signed a Liability Waiver?
Whether it’s skiing or scuba diving, many activities, including ones much less glamorous, involve some element of risk. Regardless of where you’re at or what you’re doing, if you become injured due to the negligence of another, the law grants you the right to seek compensation for your physical pain and suffering as well as any losses incurred.
While venues like ski resorts, scuba diving centers, and so on typically have participants sign waivers releasing them of any liability and possible legal action should they get hurt, these can be difficult to enforce when they’re poorly written and overly broad, or when gross negligence is to blame.
Under California law and the laws of many other states, overcoming a is often fairly simple in a personal injury case. Although liability wavers work to absolve venue operators of compensatory responsibility in the event of an injury due to the implied inherent risk of an activity, they are valid contracts and respected as such by the law.
Nonetheless, this isn’t always the case. Whether it’s a brain injury or a broken foot, if an injury is caused due to a venue’s neglect or negligent activity, a California attorney can still pursue a personal injury claim on your behalf regardless of whether you’ve signed a waiver or not.
How Enforceable is a Liability Waiver?
Similar to a regular contract, a liability waiver must have specific elements in order to make it enforceable. While these elements vary from state to state, in California and many other states, a waiver for liability should:
- Be Prominently Placed
Some companies try to diminish their liabilities by printing disclaimers in small, unreadable print. Others hide them in places a reader may overlook in order to trick claimants into signing away their punitive rights. According to California law, this practice is prohibited and all legally binding documents and disclaimers must be prominently placed and written in bold print.
- Be Clear and Concise
All documents should be unambiguous and clearly written. Anyone should be able to read it and understand its intentions with no doubts whatsoever.
- Be Aligned with Public Policy
Any contract or clause going against the public laws and policies of California or any other state are negated and often ineffective.
- Be Explicit and Comprehensive
In some states, including California, a contract should explicitly state the risks the issuing party wishes to deny responsibility for. Any risk not clearly stated in the contract cannot be waived.
- Be Read and Signed by Claimant
A contract can only be enforced if it is signed by the claimant. Along the same lines, a company cannot enforce a contract signed by any other party than the claimant.
Can Someone Still Sue After Waiving Their Liability?
There are exceptions to every rule, and the same is true for liability waivers. Even in states known to strictly enforce contract law, a personal injury case can still be filed and won if you can prove one or more of the following:
• Vague or Ambiguous Language Was Used
Any contracts waiving responsibility for the health and well-being of the signees are considered unenforceable if vague or ambiguous language was used. In such cases, an experienced personal injury attorney may be able to successfully pursue damages resulting from injury regardless of the signing of said document.
• Violation of Public Policy
From a sprained knee to more catastrophic injuries, liabilities cannot be waived for any injuries if any documents signed go against public laws and policies. Any written provisions should be diligently reviewed by a California attorney with a firm understanding of public policy and contract law.
• Unsigned Document
Any document not signed by you, the claimant, is inadmissible and considered null in void. You must provide a signature representing your understanding of the risks of injury and who is and isn’t liable for damages should an injury occur.
• Defendants Were Grossly Negligent
A random signed document is no excuse for negligent acts and improper care, and according to California law, it doesn’t absolve defendants of their legally obligated duty to provide claimants with the safest possible operating environment and conditions. Anything contrary to this can be construed as gross negligence.
However, in order to prove the defendant was grossly negligent, saying they failed in their duty of providing the right level of care for the claimant is not enough. The claimant must prove the defendant was grossly negligent, intentionally negligent, or refused to honor his or her explicit or implicit duty of care.
In many cases, defendants can make the argument they took reasonable steps in upholding a certain standard of conduct. This allows them to argue they were only negligent and not grossly negligent in helping to cause the accident or injury.
In order to argue the claimant was “grossly” negligent, a reputable personal injury attorney will look for evidence of outrageous conduct or overtly poor safety standards. More often than not, in order to prove this, expert witness testimony is needed to refer to regulations, standards, and guidelines as well as the defendant’s deviation from them.
If you or someone you love was injured while participating in an activity or class, it’s important to hire a California attorney right away. An experienced, well-qualified California personal injury attorney who understands the terms and conditions of the gross negligence standard will help you receive the compensation you deserve and need.
Examples of Gross Negligence
After reviewing hundreds of cases throughout California and the country, a pattern of conduct emerged highlighting certain key aspects capable of rendering a liability waiver useless and null and void. They include:
- Failure to follow federal, state, and local laws and guidelines
- Failure to clean, inspect, maintain, and repair or replace equipment
- Failure to actively attempt to prevent latent dangers
- Failure to properly train and supervise staff, especially if certification is required
- Failure to have adequate first aid equipment available
For your protection, talk to an experienced personal injury attorney prior to signing anything waiving your liability. The right legal advice can make all the difference when it comes to securing adequate compensation for your injuries, pain, suffering, and any wages lost as a result.
How to Defeat a Liability Waiver
Personal injury attorneys in California and elsewhere have long sought justice and compensation for victims suffering injuries due to negligent breach of safety caused by all manner of businesses. In many cases, a court will still hold businesses accountable despite whatever the plaintiff may have signed.
While reasoning can and often does vary from case to case, two of the most common reasons for why you may be able to sue in spite of signing away your protections include:
- Risk of injury was not disclosed – Your safety expectations are determined by what a company discloses about its services, equipment, and so on. Thus, it can be sued if it fails to fully inform you of the potential injury risks, regardless of anything you may have signed.
- Injury was caused by intentional or grossly negligent acts – Even if you have waived your rights, this can be dismissed if the injury occurred due to an intentional or grossly negligent act or acts. If measures to prevent the incident and the injury were not taken, you can sue them under California law.
Major Points in Your Favor Under California Law
In California, there are some additional key points working in your favor when trying to receive compensation for your injuries despite waiving your right to sue.
Most Waivers are Overly Vague and Poorly Written
The law requires all contracts and legally enforceable documents to be concise and clearly written. In particular, the activities to be undertaken, the inherent hazards the activities pose, and your responsibility for any incurred risk should be clearly defined.
Disparities in Bargaining Power
Someone cannot be “strong armed” into signing or put in a disadvantageous position without doing so, especially if they need the organization’s services and have no viable alternatives.
Grossly Negligent Acts are Not Covered
Lastly, and once again, nothing you sign overrides someone’s obligation of providing a certain standard of care towards others. This means a business owner can be held liable for their negligent actions, such as failing to properly maintain equipment, train staff, and so on.
What to Do After Signing a Waiver
Suffering an injury after signing a document waiving your right to sue is never fun, but you may still be able to pursue compensation for your injuries, especially if negligent conduct was to blame.
If you’ve been injured, first get medical attention. Then, contact an experienced California attorney to evaluate your personal injury case. If evidence of negligent conduct, intentional conduct, or a poorly written document exists, you have a valid right to pursue the compensation you deserve.
Contact JT Legal Group and let us get started on your personal injury case today!