What is a Liability Waiver or a Release Form?

Release Forms Reduce the Risk of Lawsuits

Mentor showing student how to adjust horse harness

Some businesses provide services or sponsor activities that can be risky for customers or participants. Examples are rock climbing lessons, bicycle races, and corn mazes. If participants are injured while pursuing the activity, they may sue the business for damages. Businesses can discourage such lawsuits by requiring all participants to sign a release of liability form (also called a liability waiver) before they begin the activity.

What is a Release of Liability?

A release of liability form is a contract between your business and a customer or participant. It educates the customer about the risks he is undertaking when participating in the activity. When he signs the form, the customer acknowledges that he understands the risks and agrees to accept them. The customer also waives his right to sue your business for injuries he sustains from the activity.

Waiver of liability forms are intended to reduce the number of negligence suits filed against your business by injured patrons. They shift some of the responsibility for injuries from your business to the participant. Note that a waiver can release your business from liability for ordinary negligence only. It won't absolve you of liability for gross negligence or an intentional injury.

Waiver of liability forms don't eliminate the risk of lawsuits!

A liability release form is not a substitute for general liability insurance. Some customers who have signed a waiver may file a claim. Moreover, lawsuits can arise from activities not covered by the waiver. For example, suppose your business offers aerobics classes. All of your students sign a waiver that releases you of liability for injuries they sustain in the class. If a student slips on a wet floor after the class has ended, the waiver won't absolve you of liability for her injury.

Be Sure It's Enforceable

A release form is useless if it isn't enforceable. Be sure your form is valid in your state. Most states permit exculpatory agreements, Meaning agreements that absolve one party from liability for injury to another party. However, some states have strict requirements while others are more lenient. Three states (Louisiana, Montana, and Virginia) bar such agreements entirely.

While the laws vary from state to state, your liability release is more likely to be enforced if it is written in clear, unambiguous language. Poorly constructed wording is the primary reason that waivers aren't enforced. The wording should be conspicuous, not hidden in small type or concealed in another document. Note that most states won't enforce waivers signed by minors but some will accept releases signed by a minor's parent.

Make sure each participant signs a release. A liability waiver isn't enforceable unless it contains the participant's signature.

Some businesses post signs warning of specific dangers, such as the presence of a dog. Others display signs stating they are not liable for injuries or damage sustained by visitors on the premises. Such signs are intended to head off lawsuits but they may have little legal effect. They may not reduce a property owner's liability for injuries to customers. Moreover, they draw customers' attention to hazards and may generate lawsuits regarding the language used and the placement of the sign. 

Tips on Using Release Forms

Here are some tips on how to use release forms effectively.

  1. Don't use forms from the Internet. State laws dictate the type of language that may be included in a release form. Forms you find online may not meet your state's requirements.
  2. Don't draft your own form. Hire a qualified attorney to draft a proper release form. The attorney's fee will be much cheaper than a lawsuit.
  3. Avoid legal jargon. Instead of legalese, waivers should be written in plain language that customers or patrons will understand.
  4. Don't bury the release in fine print. A release must be easy to read. It should be written in text that is large enough to see clearly.
  5. Fill in the Blanks. Don't give a patron or participant a form that contains blank spaces. Otherwise, the patron may claim that you added terms he didn't agree to.
  6. Keep signed releases on file. Patrons who are injured may not file lawsuits right away. Store signed forms in a secure location where they can be retrieved when needed.

Article Sources

  1. Find Law. "If a Business Has a Release Form, Does that Mean It Can Never Be Sued?" Accessed March 10, 2020.

  2. Vethan Law Firm, P.C. "Release of Liability Forms: How They Can Protect Your Business." Accessed March 9, 2020.

  3. Matthiesen, Wickert & Lehrer, S.C."Exculpatory Agreements and Liability Waivers in All 50 States." Accessed March 10, 2020.

  4. Matthiesen, Wickert & Lehrer, S.C."Exculpatory Agreements and Liability Waivers in All 50 States." Accessed March 10, 2020.

  5. Find Law. "If a Business Has a Release Form, Does that Mean It Can Never Be Sued?" Accessed March 9, 2020.

  6. Find Law. "If a Business Has a Release Form, Does that Mean It Can Never Be Sued?" Accessed March 10, 2020.