Liability Waivers: Did You Sign Your Rights Away?

Under Illinois waiver laws, parties can contract to limit liability when negligence causes injuries, wrongful deaths, or property damage. If liability waivers are not carefully reviewed, people may sign away their right to recover damages before an accident even occurs. To be enforceable, however, liability waivers generally must meet certain conditions.

Waivers in Illinois

Illinois courts accept broad language when it comes to pre-occurrence waivers. The courts uphold the validity of these waivers and it is possible for defendants to seek immediate dismissal of a lawsuit when a waiver was signed by the plaintiff. For a waiver to be considered valid, it must not violate public policy, the injured party must have known and understood the terms of the waiver, and the specific cause and resulting injury must be listed within the waiver.

Waivers are essentially contracts. While they can protect defendants in a number of instances, they do not protect them against all liability. When the defendant’s actions violate the law, when the terms of the waiver are exceptionally onerous, or when negligent acts cause the injury, the waiver can be considered void. Similarly, waivers signed by minors do not have legal validity.

Activity Waivers

Activity waivers for dangerous activities are common. These include bungee jumping, skydiving, water skiing, etc. These waivers typically release the defendant from liability associated with these activities. These waivers are typically very broad and worded in such a way as to release the defendant from all liability whether a personal injury is caused by a broken piece of equipment or an “Act of God” such as unforeseen weather or wildlife involvement.

Fraud, Wanton Acts, and Willful Misconduct

Illinois law does not protect issuers of liability waivers against injuries or wrongful deaths caused by fraud, wanton acts, and willful misconduct. For instance, if a company negligently ignores repairs to equipment or safety devices, fails to properly maintain facilities, or fraudulently misrepresents the safety of machinery, the waiver may be ineffective.

In these circumstances, the entity issuing the waiver has deceived the injured party into an agreement that unduly puts them at risk of harm. This can result in the court rejecting the validity of the waiver and allow the plaintiff and their personal injury lawyer in Illinois to pursue damages for the injuries, wrongful death, and/or property damage caused by the gross negligence of the defendant.