Liability waivers got a lot of attention last summer and fall, as businesses and other organizations started rolling out “Covid waivers.” Even the President of the United States asked attendees at his campaign rallies to sign a liability waiver. Closer to home, the different approaches to Covid waivers from Ohio State University and Southern Methodist University drew media attention. And many public schools, including Columbus City Schools, required Covid-related liability waivers for extracurricular activities such as school sports.
While Covid liability waivers are new and drawing notice, there’s nothing new about liability waivers. Many entities attempt to use waivers to protect themselves from liability when someone is injured on their premises or participating in an activity or event. Many people asked to sign liability waivers do so almost automatically, without reading the waiver or understanding how it impacts their rights. Signing any legal document without reading and understanding it is generally a mistake.
Unfortunately, people who are injured after signing a liability waiver often make a second, very serious mistake: assuming that the waiver prevents them from pursuing compensation. While liability waivers are generally considered valid and enforceable in Ohio, the rights you’ve waived depend on the specific language of the waiver. And Ohio law does place some restrictions on waivers.
If you’ve been injured or your child has been injured, don’t assume that a liability waiver precludes you from seeking compensation. Talk with an experienced Ohio injury lawyer to learn more about how the document you signed may impact your rights.
Legal Limitations on Ohio Liability Waivers
Despite Ohio’s general acceptance of liability waivers, there are many possible circumstances under which an injured person can successfully pursue a claim despite having signed a waiver. For example:
1. A liability waiver must be clear, unequivocal, and unambiguous. In other words, a person generally won’t be deemed to have waived claims if he or she can’t reasonably be expected to have understood the waiver. It’s important to note, though, that having chosen not to read a waiver generally won’t change its enforceability. If the terms were clearly spelled out and the injured person had the opportunity to read it before signing, the waiver is typically enforceable.
2. Claims based in willful and wanton conduct generally can’t be waived. While a waiver of negligence claims is generally enforceable in Ohio, that doesn’t mean that all conduct on the part of the responsible party can be waived. The determination as to whether there was willful and wanton misconduct is dependent on the specific facts of the case. However, an experienced Ohio injury attorney can make a general assessment of the likelihood of success based on how Ohio courts have decided similar cases in the past.
Parents May Sign Liability Waivers for Children
Most states do not allow parents to waive the right to sue on behalf of their children. However, Ohio is one of a handful of states that has deemed liability waivers signed by a parent enforceable against a minor child in many cases.
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the waiver will bar recovery. The same factors discussed above will be considered in determining whether or not the waiver is valid and effective, and whether the defendant’s actions were willful and wanton (and thus not subject to waiver).
Assumption of the Risk
The Ohio Supreme Court has held that participants in certain activities, such as sports and recreational activities, have “assumed the risks” inherent in the activity. That generally means an injured person can’t successfully sue for damages if the injury happened because of an ordinary and predictable part of the activity. For instance, football players are expected to tackle one another, meaning that someone who plays football accepts that risk.
In some situations, organizers and others are protected by statute. For instance, Ohio law specifically protects equine professionals, veterinarians, event organizers, and certain others from liability for damages that result from an inherent risk of an equine activity.
In these situations, certain claims may be cut off even without a liability waiver. But it is important to note that these protections are limited. An injured party may be able to pursue compensation for injuries resulting from events and circumstances not inherent in the activity, or that fall under specific exclusions.
Talk to an Experienced Ohio Injury Lawyer
The bottom line is that you should never assume that you’re barred from pursuing compensation when an injury occurs. Whether you signed a liability waiver, participated in an activity with inherent risk, or even have been injured participating in an event with specific legal protections, you may still have options.
The best source of information about your rights and any potential claims you may have in spite of a waiver is an experienced Ohio personal injury attorney. The attorneys at Plevin & Gallucci have devoted their careers to helping injured people in Ohio. We know how confusing the aftermath of a serious injury can be, and how important it is that you have reliable information before you make any decisions about how to proceed. That’s why we offer free, no-obligation consultations.