Can I File a Lawsuit if I Signed a Waiver?
Does Signing a Waiver Preclude You From Filing a Lawsuit?
Many businesses have made it a common practice to require patrons to sign waivers before participating in activities that could result in injury. Individuals often sign these documents without fully considering the consequences to their rights. However, if you subsequently suffer a serious accident that results in medical expenses and interruptions to your life, you may wonder if you have any legal ability to hold the company liable for their negligent actions.
The answer is that your ability to file a lawsuit depends heavily on the details of the waiver and your accident. Filing a claim after signing a waiver may be complex, but there are many situations where you could still recover damages. Because each case is unique, we recommend consulting a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer who can delve into the claim and explain your options.
What is a Waiver?
A waiver is a form that describes the expected risks related to engaging in a particular activity. These documents are meant to allow the potential participant to make an informed decision about whether or not they are willing to continue with the activity or service. By signing the form, an individual is signifying that they have read the document, understand the risks, and are willing to take responsibility for any accidents or injuries they experience during standard participation in the activity.
Waivers are commonplace for businesses that provide more adventurous activities, such as swimming pools, gyms, amusement parks, and shooting ranges. Waivers are also required before many medical or cosmetic procedures. If correctly written and presented, these waivers protect the company from most lawsuits, particularly in instances where the customer’s carelessness or failure to follow the safety guidelines caused them to experience harm. However, you should not assume that you will automatically be unable to seek compensation for your injury just because you signed a waiver, as many factors can play into the validity and applicability of the document.
What Legal Responsibilities Do Companies Have to Customers, Even With a Waiver?
While a waiver absolves the business or provider of liability if an accident occurs due to “normal” participation in an activity, it does not allow an entity to shirk its responsibility to provide a safe environment for customers. The service provider must follow all state safety regulations and fulfill their duty to their customers to warn and protect against known hazards. If a business’s failure to uphold safety standards results in harm to a customer, it could be held liable for damages even if a customer signed a waiver.
Some of the standard legal obligations of a business to its customers include:
- Having a sufficient number of well-trained staff: A business must make sure they have enough staff members to keep their patrons safe and provide necessary support for their activities. The employees must also be trained to identify and respond to situations that arise. For example, a swimming pool must have enough qualified lifeguards to oversee the swimmers and quickly handle any issues.
- Properly maintaining equipment: Equipment inspections must occur regularly, and any faulty items should be repaired or replaced before being used by customers.
- Ensuring the facility is safe: Known hazards should be clearly marked or fixed. Tripping dangers, slippery surfaces, or poorly lit areas could cause needless risks for a patron.
- Providing adequate guidance and instructions for the activity: Individuals typically need preparation to safely engage in many types of adventurous activities. The business must give suitable training before allowing customers to use potentially dangerous equipment to prevent unnecessary accidents.
How Does the Nature of Your Accident Affect the Applicability of Your Waiver?
Signing a waiver can make filing a personal injury lawsuit more complicated if you experience an accident, but it does not mean you have no legal options. A skilled personal injury lawyer can thoroughly investigate the circumstances of your case to determine your next steps. There are a wide variety of situations that could impact the viability of your claim.
Some questions your lawyer may explore include the following:
Was the Accident a Result of Negligence or Gross Negligence?
Waivers generally protect a business against most claims of negligence but do not include incidents of gross negligence. Gross negligence is a blatant and willful disregard for the safety of a customer. For example, if an employee failed to perform a standard safety check and you suffered injury, their employer may be held responsible.
Was the Incident Specifically Covered By the Waiver?
As a legal document, a waiver must be carefully worded to include certain situations and incidents. You may have a claim if the release does not cover the accident that caused your injuries. It is vital to have a knowledgeable lawyer review the waiver to understand whether it applies to your circumstances.
Who or What Caused the Accident?
Sometimes, the reason for your accident is not the business running the activity but a faulty or malfunctioning piece of equipment. For instance, if a new, properly installed safety harness broke while you were ziplining, the accident would likely be considered out of the control of the business because they took all necessary safety precautions. However, in this case, you may be able to file a product liability claim against the harness manufacturer for creating a defective product.
Is the Waiver Valid?
Waivers must meet strict legal standards to be enforceable.
Some factors that could negatively affect the waiver’s validity include:
- It contains unreadable text or confusing language.
- It was concealed within other documents and was not clearly presented as a waiver.
- It is fraudulent because it does not disclose the activity’s actual risk level.
- You signed the waiver under duress.
- You were under the influence of alcohol or were otherwise incapable of making logical decisions when signing the waiver.
- You signed the waiver as a minor.
How Can a Personal Injury Lawyer Help if You’ve Been Injured After Signing a Waiver?
It is crucial to remember that, although it can complicate the legal process, a signed waiver does not necessarily prevent you from seeking compensation for harm caused by a preventable accident. However, it is vital to contact a trusted lawyer as soon as possible after the incident to discuss your legal rights and options. Contact Villari, Giannone & Matteo P.C. today at 610-609-8477 to schedule a free case evaluation.
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