Liability waivers have become so common that many people sign them without even reading them or thinking about the ramifications of waiving claims. Waivers are sent home before school field trips, presented when you sign up for a gym membership, included in a pile of other paperwork when you decide to give skydiving a try, and in a wide variety of other contexts.
Unfortunately, people who are injured after signing a waiver often assume that means that they aren’t entitled to compensation for their injuries and fail to explore their options.
That’s what the business owner who asks you to sign the waiver wants you to think, but it may not be true. Many people who have been injured after signing a waiver still have valid personal injury claims. In fact, the business asking you to sign the waiver probably knows it isn’t enforceable, but is hoping you don’t.
Enforceability of Liability Waivers
The analysis as to whether or not a waiver bars recovery may be complex, and the best way to find out whether or not you have the right to proceed with a personal injury or wrongful death claim is to consult an experienced personal injury lawyer.
Here are some of the most common situations in which liability waivers are invalid or unenforceable.
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Liability for Injury to Minors Generally Cannot Be Waived
In New York, most contracts entered into by a minor are voidable, meaning that the minor can’t be bound to the terms of the contract. Thus, a minor’s signature on a waiver of liability has no binding effect.
In theory, a parent’s signature on the waiver could be binding and effectively waive the minor’s right of recovery, but under New York law, it is not. In short, liability waivers are generally not effective as to injuries to minors, particularly where those injuries have been caused by negligence.
Some key areas in which this protection often arises include:
- Injuries on school grounds
- Sports participation injuries
- School field trips
- Clubs such as Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts
- Minors visiting amusement parks, public pools and other recreational facilities
If you are—or your child is–a minor who has been injured after signing a liability waiver, chances are very good that you still have a right to compensation for your injuries. You should seek advice from an experienced New York personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
Your Gym Membership Waiver May Not Be Valid
Gyms are just one of the types of business that commonly employs an unenforceable waiver. That’s because New York’s General Obligations Law makes waivers that exempt an organization from liability for negligence void and unenforceable if:
- The facility is a pool, gymnasium, place of public amusement or recreation or similar establishment; and
- The owner or operator receives a fee or other compensation for use of the facility
So long as you pay for use of the facility, this law nullifies waivers of liability for negligence in contexts such as:
- Water parks
- Concert venues
- Public pools
- Gym memberships
- Amusement parks
- Skating rinks
Unclear Language May Save Your Personal Injury Claim
In New York, a waiver does not act to bar recovery for negligent acts on the part of the owner, operator or their agents unless the language of the waiver clearly specifies such. So, a waiver that is not carefully worded may fail, even though it would have been enforceable had it been properly phrased.
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Of course, the person or organization responsible for your injuries would like you to believe that you’ve signed away your rights and can no longer pursue a personal injury case. Don’t make assumptions or take someone else’s word: if you’ve been injured and have signed a waiver that you believe may affect your rights, your first step should be to contact a personal injury lawyer.