Many activities in California require participants to sign waivers. Waivers of liability are legal documents that can shield the individual or company from liability if a participant gets injured. From sports stadiums to local gyms, many establishments rely on waivers to avoid paying the bills after an accident. You may still have the right to a lawsuit, however, even after you sign a waiver.
What Are the Limitations of Liability Waivers in California?
Liability waivers are not impermeable. They do not protect a person or company from all potential liability. Different states have different waiver and liability laws. Determining liability when a case involves a release form will depend on the rules of that state. Most courtrooms make decisions on a case-by-case basis. Certain situations can increase the odds of a judge not upholding a liability waiver.
- The defendant was malicious. Most liability waivers do not have the power to protect the defendant from liability for recklessness, fraud or intent to harm. This would give the defendant permission to be malicious without any consequences.
- The waiver did not adequately warn of risks. A liability waiver should clearly state the risks involved in an activity so the participant can give his or her informed consent. Ambiguous language or missing information can invalidate a waiver.
- The waiver contains errors that make it invalid. The language of the waiver must obey relevant state laws. An improperly worded or drafted waiver, as well as one that violates the law or public policy, may not hold up in court.
Signing a waiver does not mean you automatically do not have the right to file a lawsuit after suffering a serious injury in California. Liability laws are complex and often require an attorney’s assistance. If you signed a waiver before an activity that gave you an injury, speak to a lawyer about your rights. You may still have the ability to hold the defendant liable.
What to Expect From a Lawsuit Where a Waiver Was Signed in California
Signing a waiver might not bar you from recovery, but it could make the claims process more difficult. You or your personal injury lawyer will have the burden not only to prove the defendant’s negligence but also to refute the legality of the liability waiver. If the courts uphold the release form, you might receive a summary judgment. This means the courts dismiss your lawsuit early in the process.
If, however, your lawyer can prove the waiver contains language or issues that invalidate it, the courts may throw the release form out and allow you to continue with a personal injury claim. Some states do not allow the use of release forms to limit liability, while others place restrictions on when a person may use a liability waiver. In California, however, the courts tend to uphold release forms – especially when the injured party is an adult. If the injured party was a minor, the courts may permit a lawsuit since minors are not capable of signing binding contracts.
Liability Waivers and Assumptions of Risk in California
Even if a judge agrees that a liability waiver will not prevent you from filing a claim, you may face an assumption of risk defense by the defendant. This defense asserts that the defendant should be less liable for your injuries since you assumed certain risks in participating in the dangerous activity. Cliff diving, for example, is an inherently dangerous activity that comes with assumed risks. Engaging in this activity could mean you assumed the risk of a potential injury and the defendant will not be liable. Gym injuries are another place where you may have signed a waiver.
In California, assumption of risk may not bar you entirely from recovery. It may, however, diminish your recovery award. California is a comparative negligence state, meaning a victim’s partial contribution to an accident or injury could reduce his or her recovery. A successful assumption of risk defense could lead to the defendant having to pay you a lesser amount. It is important to hire an experienced personal injury attorney to help you with a case involving a risky activity and/or a liability waiver.