Enforceability of Release Clauses

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 What Is a Release Clause?

A release clause is a document that releases a facility or individual from liability for injuries that may happen on the premises or under that individual’s care. Release clauses are disclaimers and waivers so that property owners or service providers won’t be liable for injuries to customers.

For a release clause to be enforceable, the customer must be fully aware of the waived rights. This means that the release clause must be expressed to the customer, and the customer must know what they are signing off on.

Why Are Release Clauses Used?

Release clauses are used by property owners or business owners trying to restrict their liability for injuries suffered by their customers.

Release clauses are also used for customers to participate in a sporting event or a risky event such as skiing. The property owner will require the customer to sign a release clause, acknowledging that the particular type of event is risky and may cause some injury. When the customer signs the release clause, they assume the risk of injury, limiting their rights to bring a claim for an injury.

Generally, releases are used in the following claims:

  • Personal Injury: Often, a release clause will accompany sports involving a high risk of injury. For instance, in extreme sports such as rock climbing, skydiving, or hang gliding, a hired instructor may instruct customers to sign a release form to avoid being held responsible for their injuries.
  • Construction projects: Construction contractors often use a variety of release clauses that stop the parties from filing a legal claim in the event of a dispute.
  • Business contracts: Sometimes, an agreement between two business partners will contain a release clause. If there is a dispute in the business contract, the release clause will usually lead the parties towards alternative relief methods such as negotiation or mediation.

How Do I Know if I’ve Signed a Release Clause?

A release clause will usually be an express waiver that the customer will sign before engaging in some activity on the property. The property owner or property facilitators will warn customers of common dangers associated with the property activity. Common examples of situations where you may have signed a release clause include:

  • Ski resorts
  • Fitness/ Health Clubs
  • Recreational Boating Trips
  • Residential or Commercial Leases
  • Gyms or Fitness Centers

Many places also have implied waivers of liability. An implied waiver is applied when a person enters a property knowing that the activity they are about to do poses a risk of harm, such as ice skating or skiing. Unlike an express waiver, an implied waiver does not require the customer to sign a release clause.

Are Release Clauses Always Enforceable?

Release clauses are not always enforceable. If you have signed a release clause and have been hurt in connection with the activities for which you signed the release, you may still be able to sue. Although state and federal courts differ slightly, most agree that to be enforceable, the release clause must be easily readable and understandable to non-lawyers.

The courts also consider whether the release clauses that the customer signed covers the particular injury or damage that the injured individual suffered. For a waiver or release clause to be enforceable, the waiver must be apparent to the property’s customer. This may require the release clause to be clear and expressed to the customer, and they must know what they are signing off.

Can I Bring a Negligence Claim If I Was Injured?

The answer to this question depends upon the state’s law in which the accident happens. Some states hold that facilities cannot release themselves from liability for their negligence because they wouldn’t have any incentive to promote safety. Other states hold that if the release clause completely, clearly, and unambiguously states that the user is releasing the premises from liability for negligence, it should be enforceable.

If the release clause did not cover the injury or damage that was suffered, the courts would consider whether the customer waived their right to bring a claim for all types of injury or damage of just particular injuries.

What Laws Govern Release Clauses?

A release clause is a contract between the parties. Thus, release clauses are controlled by the law of contracts. This means that a definitive agreement in a release clause is legally binding on the parties.

To be enforceable, the release clause must meet all the requirements for a proper contract, such as:

  • The parties are capable of contracting (i.e., of legal age and mental capacity)
  • The parties consent to the clause (cannot be formed under coercion or through force)
  • The subject matter of the agreement is not criminal
  • There is a valid offer and acceptance
  • The clause is supported by sufficient consideration

Most release clauses prevent litigation involving the contract’s subject matter. Yet, if there is a conflict about the enforceability of the release clause itself, the parties may confer with a judge for clarification.

According to doctrines of contract law, the parties’ intentions regarding the release clause will be specified as much as possible from the agreement itself. In some instances, the court may view other factors to determine the parties’ intentions, such as their previous dealings.

Can I Still Sue a Defendant for My Injuries if I Signed a Contract Stating I Would not Sue Them?

A plaintiff could not sue a defendant for their injuries if they signed a contract stating that they would not sue the defendant. The purpose of the assumption of the risk defense is to prevent liability on the defendant’s part or to outright deter an injured party from bringing a lawsuit.

Express assumption of the risk, however, is a defense that is based on contract law and, because of that, has a few critical issues, including:

  • The contract cannot violate public policy: Public policy may be defined by public accessibility or necessity. Generally, mandatory education and emergency medical care are usually examples of areas of public policy;
  • The contract cannot cover intentional acts: For instance, if a race car track owner leaves a wheel in the road deliberately to cause damage to the plaintiff, the assumption defense will not work; and
  • The plaintiff did not have the required capacity to understand the contract fully: A mentally ill or barely conscious plaintiff cannot sign a contract that waives their right to sue a doctor or hospital. Correspondingly, a minor likely cannot waive the right to sue if they go skydiving, but it will depend on the exact age of the minor.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Sue After Signing a Release Clause?

If you have been injured at a ski resort, health club, or another place after signing a release form, you may still be able to sue for damages or other compensation. You should consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer in your state to learn about the enforceability of release clauses and discuss your options.

Use LegalMatch to find the right personal injury lawyer for you. Most personal injury lawyers offer a free case consultation. Release waivers are often a complex area of law requiring the help of an experienced attorney. Take steps to start resolving your personal injury issues today.

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