Is a Waiver of Liability Enforceable in New York if You Are Injured?
Waivers of liability are a common and useful tool for protecting businesses and individuals from liability in New York. But just because you signed one does not mean it is automatically enforced if you are injured.
A waiver of liability is a legal document that releases parties from liability for any injuries or damages that may occur during a specific activity or event. They are commonly used to transfer responsibility from one party to another and protect businesses or individuals from potential lawsuits. However, the enforceability of such waivers in New York is subject to certain limitations allowing you to retain your right to sue the negligent party.
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How Are Waivers of Liability Enforced if You Are Injured in New York?
There is a widespread belief that agreeing to a liability waiver implies that you are completely prevented from taking legal action in case of an injury. However, the enforceability of these waivers can vary depending on your particular circumstances. For example, suppose you suffer an injury on a company’s premises unrelated to the activity covered by the waiver. In that case, you may still be able to pursue a claim for personal injury.
In New York, the courts tend to view waivers of liability with skepticism and examine them closely before enforcing them. The state’s public policy strongly emphasizes protecting individuals from negligence and other wrongful acts. Nonetheless, there are situations where liability waivers can be enforced. In such cases, our Manhattan personal injury attorneys can review your case to determine what your rights are to compensation. The following are factors the court will consider to determine the enforceability of a waiver:
Clear and Unambiguous Language
One of the most important criteria is the use of clear and unambiguous language. This means that the waiver must be drafted in a way that is easily understood by the injured party. The terms and conditions should be spelled out in explicit detail, with no room for misinterpretation or confusion.
If the language used in the waiver is ambiguous, it can render the waiver unenforceable. This is because an ambiguous waiver fails to provide a clear indication of the parties’ intent to release liability. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that any liability waiver is drafted clearly and concisely, leaving no room for uncertainty.
Voluntary assent is another crucial factor in enforcing waivers of liability in New York. This means that the injured party must willingly and knowingly agree to the terms of the waiver without any indication of coercion, duress, or undue influence. It is essential that the individual signing the waiver fully understands its contents and is not being forced or pressured to do so.
Courts closely scrutinize the circumstances surrounding the signing of the waiver to ensure that the injured party has a fair opportunity to review and comprehend its contents. If there is any evidence of deception or pressure, the waiver may be deemed unenforceable. This may include instances where the injured party was not given enough time to read and understand the document or where the terms of the waiver were misrepresented or hidden.
Public Interest Considerations
New York courts consider the public interest when determining the enforceability of waivers of liability. The public policy of the state emphasizes the protection of individuals from negligence and wrongful acts. Therefore, waivers that contravene public policy are generally disfavored.
Courts scrutinize the nature of the activity and assess whether enforcement of the waiver would be contrary to public policy. Activities that involve essential services, public safety, or professional responsibilities may receive heightened scrutiny, making it more difficult to enforce waivers.
When is a Waiver of Liability Automatically Unenforceable in New York?
Under G.O.B. Law § 5-326, any agreement, including a waiver of liability for negligence, will be considered automatically null and void in specific circumstances. This is applicable in cases where the recreational activity is conducted in a public facility such as a gymnasium, recreational or amusement facility, or public pool.
Waivers of liability signed by patrons of public pools are generally considered unenforceable. This means that individuals who are injured in a public pool cannot be prevented from suing the facility for compensation, even if they have previously signed a waiver of liability.
The rationale behind this law is to ensure that operators of public pools take responsibility for providing a safe environment for their patrons. For example, if a public pool fails to maintain its facilities properly, resulting in a slip and fall accident that leads to serious injury, the signed waiver of liability would not protect the pool facility from legal action.
The law also specifically prohibits agreements between the owner or operator of a gymnasium and its members that exempt the owner or operator from liability for damages resulting from their negligence.
Public Recreational Facilities
Public recreational facilities such as parks, hiking trails, and other similar establishments offer individuals the opportunity to indulge in various recreational activities such as hiking, biking, sports activities, and so on. However, these activities come with inherent risks that participants must be aware of and be prepared for. To mitigate their liability, owners or operators of such facilities may seek to limit their liability through waivers.
In New York, the general rule is that waivers of liability in public recreational facilities are unenforceable. However, there are some exceptions. For instance, some activities such as horseback riding, snowmobiling, and skiing come with an inherent risk of danger, and waivers for such activities may be enforceable. It is essential to carefully read through any waiver you are asked to sign and understand the risks involved before signing it.
Public Amusement Facilities
Public amusement facilities are recreational establishments that offer various forms of entertainment to visitors, such as theme parks, water parks, and other similar venues. These facilities offer a range of activities that can pose risks to participants, including roller coasters, water slides, and other thrill rides.
Fortunately, waivers of liability in public amusement facilities are generally unenforceable. This is because New York considers amusement facilities inherently risky, and therefore, the responsibility for ensuring the safety of visitors falls on the facility and its operators. As a result, public amusement facilities must take all necessary precautions to minimize the risk of accidents and injuries to their visitors.
Our New York Personal Injury Attorneys Are Here to Help
For a free case evaluation with our Brooklyn personal injury attorneys, contact The Carrion Law Firm at (718) 841-0083.