California Law On The Enforceability Of “Liability Waivers”

When you enroll your child in sports activities or camps in California, it is not uncommon for the sports activity or camp provider to ask you to sign a liability waiver. When you buy a ticket to a theme park, sporting event, or a concert, most tickets are printed with a disclaimer statement or a waiver of potential risk. In both cases, you agree to release the owner or activity venue from liability if you or your child is injured during the sport or event. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all liability waivers or releases are enforceable, though.

What is a Liability Waiver?

A waiver or release of liability agreement is a legal document between two parties – it is a contract. By signing the form or agreement, the individual acknowledges that they understand the risks and claims involved in whatever activity they are engaging in and agrees to not sue the owner or event coordinator for past or future injuries or damages.

Most liability waivers include language stating the service provider is not responsible for any injuries that resulted, either directly or indirectly, from errors or mistakes by the provider, thereby relieving the operator/owner from the duty of care that usually would apply. A waiver or release agreement has two primary protective purposes:

  1. Waivers and releases are contracts to excuse an organization for its simple negligence; and
  2. Provide evidence of the organization’s warning of inherent and other risks involved in participating in the sport or activity

Can Negligence be Waived?

In the majority of states, a well-drafted, adequately administered waiver that is signed voluntarily by an adult will protect service providers from liability for injuries that result from the simple negligence of the provider.

Waivers or releases can be very effective and may result in lawsuit dismissals in most states if the three following conditions are satisfied:

  1. The waiver or release is worded correctly according to the state law in the state of the sports or activity organization.
  2. The waiver or release does not violate any state laws or public policy.
  3. The injury sustained was from the organization’s simple, ordinary negligence.

In California, courts will not enforce waivers intended to protect the provider against liability for gross negligence, willful or wanton conduct, reckless conduct, or intentional acts. Where ordinary negligence is “the failure to take the care that a reasonable, prudent professional would take under the circumstances,” gross negligence is an “extreme form of negligence in which there is a drastic departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.”

The key to whether negligence will be waived is how the jury and the court view ordinary negligence and gross negligence. Even though a liability waiver or release is designed to preclude litigation, some exceptions exist.

The parents of a developmentally disabled girl who drowned at a summer camp for disabled children administered by the City of Santa Barbara, CA, sued the camp for gross negligence even though they had signed a liability release. The California Supreme Court ruled against the City, stating that they are liable for girl’s death due to their gross negligence.

Negligence and personal injury claims may be filed if someone is injured or if the parents of an injured child can prove that the owners of the sports activity, camp, or entertainment site did not take measures to keep them safe.

In short, the fact that the parents of a child may have signed a liability waiver does not necessarily wholly release the facility for acts of negligence. Contact a knowledgeable Los Angeles personal injury attorney if you are unsure of whether a liability waiver precludes you from seeking compensation for an injury.