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Liability waivers do not always block recovery of damages

Adults and children in California often must complete liability waivers before participating in activities, like athletics, amusement park rides, skiing or school trips. Although these forms seek to exempt businesses and other organizations from paying damages when accidents happen, waivers do not necessarily hold up in court. During legal challenges, the language of the waiver, its scope, and the public interest will guide the interpretation of the contract.

Customers and participants should be clearly informed that they are signing liability waivers instead of having the language hidden within an agreement that covers multiple issues. Parents need to sign for their minor children.

An organization might successfully limit the possibility of liability when a waiver specifically states which activities fall under the purview of the waiver. The case of a person who drowned on a school trip illustrates how the scope of a waiver prevented the family from recovering damages. The waiver clearly stated that it covered all activities during the trip.

The public interest becomes an issue when a court examines cases that involve highly regulated activities and industries. Regulations meant to protect the public could override waivers that sought to avoid responsibility. Courts sided with accident victims in two cases that involved a ski resort and motorcycle safety instructor because these the operators could not avoid liability for ordinary negligence.

Although the enforcement of a waiver depends on the individual circumstances, property owners in general have a legal obligation to keep their locations safe for the public. A person injured because of problems like a slippery floor, unsecured dangerous animal, broken steps or electrical hazards might pursue compensation under the concept of premises liability. An attorney could support this process by organizing evidence, locating applicable insurance policies and preparing a lawsuit if necessary.

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