From zipline adventures to rides on a hay wagon, it seems like every activity comes with a waiver. Over 15 million civil lawsuits are filed each year, as a skilled personal injury lawyer Phoenix AZ trusts might explain. Waivers are designed, usually by insurance companies, to prevent people who engage in dangerous or recreational activities from suing the companies in charge in case something goes wrong.
Should you always sign a waiver? You should definitely think about it. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 3.5 million children under the age of 14 are injured every year in sports or recreational activities. Whether you are sending your child to camp, signing up for a new fitness center, or renting a paddleboard at the beach, it seems that a waiver signing has to happen first. But just what rights are you signing away? If the treadmill malfunctions and you fly off and break your leg, do you have any rights against the fitness center, or have you signed them all away? If your child isn’t properly supervised at camp and suffers an injury, are you still protected?
Before you sign a waiver, be sure to:
1. Read the waiver. It’s easier to just sign quickly and move on, but it may not be wise to if you don’t really know what you are signing. If there is something you don’t understand in the waiver, ask.
2. Make sure you can still sue the company if there is gross negligence. All waivers are designed to protect the company from accidents, especially if they are unpreventable. For example, if your child jumps off the table in the camp cafeteria and hurts his ankle, this is likely not the camp’s fault. However, if a camp counselor tells your child to stand on a table, and then the table breaks resulting in an injury to your child’s ankle, that could be.
3. Know the difference between gross negligence and ordinary negligence. Gross negligence occurs when an injury is caused by a piece of equipment that was reported to be malfunctioning. If the equipment was not taken out of service or fixed, this is gross negligence. Ordinary negligence is the failure to act as a “reasonably prudent professional” would act under the circumstances. If the camp counselor at your child’s camp tells your child to use a canoe that has a hole in it, but the counselor didn’t know about the hole, this is ordinary negligence.
4. Trust your instincts. Do not sign a waiver if something seems “off” about the company or the activity. Do a little research first. The internet is a good source of reviews and articles on many companies. If someone else has had a bad experience — or a good one — at a place you are considering visiting, it’s likely they have posted about it to social media, Yelp, or other websites.
When you sign a waiver, you are usually agreeing to “hold harmless” the company involved. This does not, however, mean that you can never recover damages. If you have been injured, an attorney may be able to get you the compensation you deserve. If the company is at fault and guilty of gross negligence, you may still have a case against them, waiver or not.
Thanks to our friends and contributor from Alex & Saavedra, P.C for their insight into signing waivers.