Waivers of liability are contracts signed that release one person or business from responsibility for certain negligence that may cause harm to another.
These are often thrust in front of people who participate in recreational activities like parasailing, skydiving or rock wall climbing. However, they are increasingly being used by companies that aren’t necessarily offering a potentially dangerous service or activity. For example, many gyms require patrons to sign such waivers before they will allow them to become members.
That’s what plaintiff in Kelter v. PFPA did, three years before he was seriously injured when a piece of heavy equipment broke while he was using it.
When he filed a lawsuit against the gym to help cover his medical expenses, the first question he faced was: Why should the court find this agreement non-enforceable?
In general, most courts will recognize liability waivers as valid contracts, unless they are grossly unfair, unconscionable or against public policy. The language of the contract has to be clear – that is, a person has to know what rights they are foregoing by signing it. They also can’t be used by common carriers, like airlines or railroads, and they can’t be used in most residential lease agreements.
There may be technicalities on which a waiver of liability can be overcome, which is why it’s important to discuss your case with an experienced Orlando injury attorney.
In this case, before the Delaware Supreme Court, plaintiff alleged the liability waiver he signed was ambiguous, unconscionable and against public policy. However, the state high court disagreed.
The membership agreement contained a clause that stated he understood use of the facility involved a risk of injury, ranging from minor to severe and included the possibility of death. It further stated the plaintiff accepted this risk and agreed the gym would not be liable for any personal injuries, regardless of whether the facility was negligent.
The statement additional indicated the equipment wasn’t manufactured by the facility, and thus it could not be held liable for defective products.
Here, plaintiff had been injured when a cable broke on a seated rowing machine that he had been using.
The court determined the language of the contract was clear, and thus not ambiguous. It also wasn’t unconscionable because it was there was not an absence of meaningful choice and terms that were unreasonably favorable to the defendant gym. It also wasn’t the case that plaintiff couldn’t walk away from the contract. He had a choice about whether to accept membership or not.
The court also ruled the agreement wasn’t against public policy. Although the law generally requires property owners to keep their sites in safe condition for those who are there lawfully, general releases free the property owner from those responsibilities. There is no public policy that forbids such a release.
In Florida, courts have held that in order to be valid, liability releases (also sometimes referred to as exculpatory clauses) have to be specific enough to release one from certain conduct, but they still have to broad enough to encompass other related conduct and acts that could result in liability.
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Kelter v. PFPA , Jan. 15, 2016, Delaware Supreme Court
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Espinoza v. Arkansas Valley Adventures – Waiver of Liability in Wrongful Death Case, Jan. 5, 2016, Orlando Injury Attorney