A liability waiver or release form is a legal contract entered into between a business and a participant in a business-related event. Some businesses provide services or sponsor activities that can be risky, and this form educates the customer about the risks they're assuming. Businesses can discourage lawsuits by requiring that participants sign a liability waiver or release before they engage in the activity.
Examples include rock climbing lessons, bicycle races, and horseback riding. Participants might sue the business for damages if they're injured enjoying any of these events.
What Is a Liability Waiver or Release Form?
Liability waiver 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. A waiver can only release your business from liability for ordinary negligence, however. It won't absolve you of liability for gross negligence or an intentional injury.
Who Uses a Liability Waiver or Release Form?
Some businesses post signs warning of specific dangers or stating that they're not liable for injuries or damage sustained by visitors on the premises. Such signs are intended to head off lawsuits, but they can have little legal effect.
Warning signs might 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.
Business owners can use liability waiver or release forms instead of these tactics to ensure that a customer acknowledges in writing that they understand the risks and that they agree to accept them. The customer also waives their right to sue your business for injuries sustained from the activity.
Waiver of liability forms don't eliminate the risk of all lawsuits.
A liability release form isn't a substitute for general liability insurance, and customers who have signed a waiver can still file an insurance claim. Moreover, lawsuits can arise from activities or accidents not covered by the waiver.
For example, your business might offer aerobics classes. All your students sign a waiver that releases you of liability for injuries they sustain in the class, but the waiver won't absolve you of liability for their injury if a student slips on a wet floor.
Where to Get a Liability Release Form
Examples of these forms abound all over the internet and can be purchased at low cost, but the forms you'll find online might not meet your state's requirements. You might want to have an attorney draw one up for you so you can be absolutely sure it meets your state's criteria and that it's enforceable.
What to Do if a Customer Won't Sign
You're not obligated to permit a customer or participant to engage in an activity if they won't sign a release. You can feel free to protect yourself and turn them away. Just be clear that you're doing so because they're unwilling to sign the form.
Requirements for a Liability Waiver or Release Form
A release form is useless if it isn't enforceable. Be sure your form is valid in your state. Most states permit exculpatory agreements that absolve one party from liability for injury to another party, but some states have strict requirements for this while others are more lenient. Three states—Louisiana, Montana, and Virginia—bar such agreements entirely.
Your liability release is more likely to be enforced if it's written in clear, unambiguous language. Poorly constructed wording is the primary reason that waivers aren't enforced, and your message should be conspicuous, not hidden in small type.
Make sure each participant signs a release. A liability waiver isn't enforceable unless it contains the participant's signature.
Most states won't enforce waivers signed by minors, but some will accept releases signed by a minor's parent.
Tips on Using Release Forms
Keep signed releases on file. Patrons who are injured might not file lawsuits right away, so store the signed forms in a secure location where they can be retrieved when and if necessary. Pay attention to a few other issues:
- Avoid legal jargon if you decide to write your own form. Waivers should be written in plain language that customers or patrons will understand, not in legalese.
- Don't lose the intent of the release in fine print. A release must be easy to read. It should be written in text that's large enough to see clearly.
- Don't give a patron or participant a form that contains blank spaces. Otherwise, they might claim that you added terms they didn't agree to.
- A liability waiver or release form protects business owners if a customer or patron is injured in the course of a sponsored event or activity.
- Liability release forms aren’t a substitute for general liability insurance, but they can add an extra layer of protection.
- Forms should be written in clear, unambiguous language so customers understand what they’re signing.
- Consider having an attorney draw one up for you to ensure that you meet your state’s requirements.