It is common practice for companies of all sizes to make you sign a waiver of responsibility whenever you buy their product or sign up for a service. Why would a company want you to sign a waiver of responsibilities or similar documents? What does a waiver actually do in legal terms?
Every waiver is different, but most will say that you cannot sue them – the commercial or private party that made you sign the waiver – in case something goes wrong with their product or service that results in your injury. Instead, you will probably be wedged into accepted forced arbitration, which is a “negotiation” behind closed doors to determine how much compensation you deserve for your damages if any. Forced arbitration clauses in such waivers are notorious among personal injury law firms, though, because they tend to completely strip any bargaining or negotiating powers away from the claimant. What’s more, they bar the claimant from taking the matter to court for litigation, which is a fundamental element of the American court system.
If you have signed a waiver of responsibility that says you cannot file a claim or lawsuit against the other party for damages, then you cannot – unless there has been gross or willful negligence or no informed consent.
What is Gross or Willful Negligence?
Waivers are not the impenetrable legal documents that many believe them to be. Courts can override a waiver if there are grounds to do so. One of the most common reasons why a court might tear up a waiver that you willingly signed and allow you to file a lawsuit against the other party is that if the other party acted with gross or willful negligence that concluded in or contributed to your injuries.
For example, you might sign a waiver when checking into a hotel that says you cannot sue for “frivolous” reasons like you tripped over your blanket in the middle of the night and hurt yourself. But that waiver might lose enforceability if a housekeeper left a blanket outside of your room door, which you then tripped on when you were going downstairs to get your continental breakfast. Even though both situations involve you tripping on something you did not notice, the latter involves the gross negligence of a company employee, which could be significant enough to invalidate the waiver.
What is a Lack of Informed Consent?
There is also the unspoken rule that a waiver is only valuable if all parties are aware that it exists. You might have signed a waiver and never really known about it because it was tucked away with a dozen other documents or even mislabeled intentionally. Although you placed your signature on the document, did you reasonably understand what you were signing and why? If the answer is no, then the waiver could be seen as inconsequential by a court, permitting a lawsuit against the defending party all the same.
Going back to the hotel blanket trip example, imagine that you were told you had to sign 10 papers when checking into the hotel. The clerk at the front desk pushes the papers in front of you, insists that you sign them quickly because there is a line behind you, and you are sent on your way without getting a chance to review the paperwork closely. In this situation, there is no informed consent about the waiver, so how could you reasonably be restricted by it later in the event of an accident in the hotel? An experienced personal injury attorney could argue that you should not be.
Worried About a Waiver? Call BD&J
Are you worried that you signed a liability or responsibility waiver as part of a commercial contract and now that waiver might be in the way of your fair recovery? If you live in Los Angeles or the surrounding metropolitan area, then BD&J and our personal injury attorneys might be able to help. Call (855) 906-3699 or contact us online to discuss whether the waiver could be insufficient to stop a claim or lawsuit from being filed against the party that caused your injuries.