If you're taking one last summer fling this Labor Day weekend at an amusement park, you might be asked to sign a waiver before stepping on a particularly adventuresome ride. The newest roller coasters now compete to see which can be the most "extreme."
In fact, waivers are now fairly common at amusement parks, and even movie theaters. The waiver is sometimes built into the purchase of a ticket. By making the purchase you've agreed to waive your right to sue for negligent actions.
Are these waivers enforceable? Alex Brown, an insurance lawyer and commercial litigator with Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White, says sometimes yes, sometimes no.
Amusement park accidents
The issue of liability waivers came to the forefront last summer after a number of deadly accidents at amusement parks. In some cases the rides malfunctioned but in others riders fell or were thrown from rides that seemed to be operating properly.
In April 2010, Florida passed a law restoring the right of businesses to ask for a "waiver of liability" before letting customers on various types of amusement or theme park rides. The law was primary aimed at children. Parents had to sign a waiver agreeing not to sue the business or park if the child were hurt while on a ride.
Brown says it's not all that cut and dried however. He says if your child is hurt because of some risk that's part of the activity, the waiver will stop you from filing suit. If they're hurt because the park or an employee didn't do something it was supposed do, you may still be able to sue.
Many activities require waivers
Liability waivers are used all over the U.S. and for all sorts of recreational activities, such as white water rafting, canoeing and bungee-jumping. However, a business or park can ask for a waiver for just about any type of ride or activity.
Whether a waiver is "good" or valid depends on the laws of the state, Brown says. In many states, waivers are legal and apply to negligence and inherent risks. In other states, waivers apply to only one or the other, or may not be good at all.
Brown calls it "a legal gray area," and anyone injured in an amusement park, ski resort or anywhere should speak with an attorney and not automatically think the courthouse door is closed due to a waiver -- although in many cases it might be.
But should that stop you from signing a waiver in the first place? It all depends on whether you really want to ride the ride or take part in the dangerous activity. If you don't agree, the amusement park will not permit you on the ride.
Without the waiver the amusement park might not be able to operate the ride. And it would surely cost more since insurance costs are much higher.
That said, it's probably not wise to get on a ride you have serious misgivings about and parents, especially, should exercise caution and judgment when deciding whether to allow a child to ride.