California Courts Rule that Release Signed by Equestrian Does Not Bar Wrongful Death Claim by Her Parents
As a father of four children, it seems that I am constantly having releases of liability thrown in my face when my kids participate in activities as mundane as playing basketball, or going on school activities, etc. You have probably seen the releases: In big bold print (or sometimes not such big print) they will state something like “This is a Release/Waiver of Liability” The activity your child is participating in has inherent dangers. If he or she is injured, you promise not to sue us, etc. The question often arises whether these releases are enforceable.
A recent California case addressed this in the case of an equestrian accident resulting in the death of a 17 year old girl. The girl, according to the wrongful death suit, was permitted to participate in a competition with an unfit horse, which had recently suffered serious injuries, that were not reported to the parents. The court held that concealing this information and allowing the child to ride an unfit horse in the competition could equate to gross negligence. As a matter of public policy, waivers will not prevent lawsuits where there is gross negligence and therefore the court allowed the matter to go to trial.
As an Oakland personal injury lawyer, I see more and more of these waiver agreements where there have been personal injury accidents. You often see them in contracts for gym and fitness memberships, for sporting events, or children’s activities. Each case involving a signed waiver or release of liability must be carefully scrutinized. There is a trend among the courts to enforce these agreements, but they can be defeated if the agreements violate public policy, are vague and ambiguous, or are not clear and conspicuous in the paperwork.
Eriksson v Nunnink, January 10, 2011