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Waivers of Liability for Injuries Must Include Clear Language On Scope to Include Post-Claim Release, Peterson v. Flare Fittings, Case N. 5D13-2235 (5th DCA 2015)

A defendant may be able to escape liability for injuries if the injured party executed a waiver that releases the defendant from liability. However, our Miami personal injury attorneys find that courts construe these waivers very carefully especially if they constitute a very broad release from all existing and future claims. Parties should take care in executing such broad waivers and must insist on clear language that defines the scope of the waiver. The case below illustrates how any ambiguity will usually be construed in the plaintiff’s favor and against a waiver’s broad applicability.

The case of Peterson v. Flare Fittings involves an incident where the plaintiff was injured when a 10-foot balloon made contact with his head while he was attending a trade show and sporting event. The balloon contained the defendant’s logo and was attached to a tree beside a tent operated by the defendant. According to the plaintiff, the impact caused his knees to buckle and caused him to be in pain and to be dazed. The plaintiff reported the incident to a manager, He then sought medical treatment and was discharged after receiving negative X-rays. He returned the following day to participate in the paintball competition that was a part of the event and was required to sign a waiver. The waiver stated, in relevant part, that it constituted a release from all past or future claims connected to participation in the event and related activities. The plaintiff signed the waiver. He participated in the competition and returned home shortly after that. Several years later, the plaintiff filed a personal injury suit against the defendant for injuries arising from his collision with the balloon and alleged that the defendant was negligent. The defendant raised the waiver as one of its defenses to liability and filed a motion for summary judgment on that ground. The court granted the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

The Fifth District Court of Appeal first stated that Florida law disfavors broad waivers of liability. According to the court, such waivers allow a party to escape its duty of care and makes another party bear all the risk of injury even though that party is likely the least able to take the right precautions to avoid any injuries and carry the risk. Courts strictly construe these waivers against those who are asking to avoid liability. In the case of waivers that parties execute after the event that gives rise to the claim, the court stated that it must evaluate whether all the parties gave explicit and knowing consideration in the waiver. The court then found that the waiver’s language focused the signing party on the paintball competition, not the trade show that occurred before the match where the plaintiff was injured. The parties also admitted that the defendant did not require people who were only attending the trade show to sign the waiver. Therefore, the court found that the waiver failed to include explicitly any incident that took place before it was signed and did not sufficiently notify the plaintiff the he was releasing the defendant from liability for past incidents. The waiver was ambiguous as to whether it applied to both the trade show and the paintball competition. Therefore, the Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment.

If you or a family member has been injured because of someone else’s negligence, the Miami personal injury lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to obtain the results you desire.  With over 130 collective years of experience representing personal injury clients across South Florida, our firm provides legal representation of unmatched excellence.  Contact our firm as soon as possible to start on the road to protecting your legal rights.  Our firm received an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and was ranked as a top firm in South Florida by the Miami Herald.   Put our exceptional personal injury attorneys to work on your case.  Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or you can visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.

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