What is a Liability Waiver or Release Form?

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If you’ve ever been to a paintball arena, gone zip-lining, or participated in another activity that has a risk of injury, you probably signed a liability waiver, a release form which acknowledges that the activity has risks and that you accept those risks. By making the acknowledgment — and signing on the dotted line — in most cases, you are giving up your right to sue the venue or the other party if you suffer an injury or damages due to participating in the activity.

A waiver of liability can be implied, meaning one might reasonably expect a risk of injury, or a liability waiver can be written with a signature serving to complete the release. A signed liability form is commonly used because it leaves less room for misunderstanding.

Why might you need a liability waiver form?

Certain types of businesses or special events carry an intrinsic risk for physical injury or loss. A liability waiver form is commonly used for amusement parks, ski resorts, sports leagues, and similar activities that can lead to injuries. Without a waiver of liability, these businesses have a much higher risk of a liability lawsuit than other types of businesses, such as a bookstore or an accounting practice.

On a drive down the main thoroughfare in your town you will likely pass several businesses and organizations that use liability waiver forms. Release forms are commonly used for martial arts schools and dance schools as well as for water sports, rock climbing, fitness clubs, and more.

Cases where a liability waiver form might not protect you

A release form isn’t a force field that keeps you universally safe from anything and everything. There are several considerations that can still create a liability risk. First, some jurisdictions don’t enforce liability waiver forms or may enforce them loosely or may require that the forms meet strict criteria which can vary by state. In particular, forms with ambiguous or confusing language may be deemed void in some courts.

Addition considerations include some of the following situations:

Negligence: Improper maintenance or the failure to remove a hazard, such as a spill, could result in risk for which your liability release form may not provide protection.

Security or safety issues: If your business failed to provide safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers or smoke detectors, and a customer was injured due to this missing equipment, the liability waiver wouldn’t apply.

Fraud or misrepresentation: If the actual risks differ from the risks presented to the customer, a liability waiver may not apply. For example, if you advertised assistance by a certified instructor and the customer received no assistance or instruction, it would be reasonable to say that customers faced more risk of injury than might be expected.

Additionally, minors cannot release liability, which is why parents or guardians are asked to sign waivers for certain youth activities.

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What to avoid with a liability waiver form

Because some jurisdictions require a release form to meet strict criteria, avoid liability forms you might find on the internet. These forms may not have the proper structure to protect your business from liability lawsuits or may even have misleading language that can cause the release to be voided in the eyes of a court. Similarly, drafting a form yourself — unless you are an attorney or law firm well-versed in the requirements for your state — can lead to a release form being invalidated.

Confusing language can also cause a liability waiver to become unenforceable. A liability waiver form should be clear and understandable to the customer.

Hiding the release in the fine print can also lead a release to become unenforceable. Ideally and for clarity, a liability waiver is a separate document from any other paperwork or contracts you may use with customers.

Release forms must be complete, without missing information such as blanks that aren’t filled in. In practice, the only information that should need to be completed is the information provided by the customer, including contact information, date, and signature. The goal is to ensure that the customer completely understands the waiver.

Where can I get a release form?

If your business needs a liability waiver form, use a reliable source, such as your insurer or a trusted personal injury attorney who is knowledgeable about liability waiver requirements in your state. If you’ll be using a release form in your business or for a specific activity, be sure your staff is knowledgeable about the form’s provisions and the importance of having the waiver completed.

A waiver of liability can help protect your business against certain types of lawsuits but doesn’t remove the need for liability insurance. A Commercial General Liability policy or a Business Owners Insurance Policy can help protect your business against a number of risks that are unrelated to the risks addressed in a waiver form. Reach out to CoverWallet’s experienced team of trusted agents to learn how to build a comprehensive coverage solution for your business. You can get a no-obligation quote in minutes.

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