Waivers of Liability for Sports Injuries in Pennsylvania – What is the Law?
When a sports participant sustains an injury in Pennsylvania, what are their legal rights against the sports facility or organization? The answer depends almost entirely on the waiver of liability. Was it signed? What does the waiver contain?
Generally, Pennsylvania courts uphold waivers of liability in sports situations, as to adults. For example, an adult signs a waiver of liability for a sports event or activity and is injured in an accident. The waiver of liability is likely to bar the adult’s legal claim against the sports facility or organization. Multiple Pennsylvania court cases have been decided against the injured party where there is a valid waiver of liability.
However, it is important to note that the language of the specific waiver is important. Some waivers are written in such a way as to preserve legal rights to sue. Therefore, it is crucial to review the language of the waiver to determine whether an adult’s claim would actually be barred.
With respect to child injuries, waivers of liability are usually not upheld in Pennsylvania. For children, waivers of liability are not likely to bar their own claims for injuries. For example, a child is injured at a kid’s birthday party held at a sports gym. Because the child’s parent signed a waiver of liability for their child, a PA court is not likely to uphold the waiver and bar the child’s claim against the gym. Any claim the parent/adult had, on the other hand, is likely to be barred. Get more legal info about waivers of liability in child sports accidents in Pennsylvania or New Jersey.
Pennsylvania Superior Court – Wrongful Death Claims & Waivers of Liability
In a recent case, Valentino v. Philadelphia Triathlon (November 15, 2016), the Pennsylvania Superior Court backtracked on its prior December 2015 ruling regarding a widow’s right to bring a wrongful death claim after her deceased husband signed a waiver of liability.
In the Valentino case, the decedent participated in a triathlon. He died during the swim portion of the race. He electronically signed a 2+ page waiver of liability form in which he 1. assumed all risks and responsibility for any damages or liabilities, and 2. agreed that he would hold the defendant harmless from any liability claims brought by him or anyone on his behalf.
In its original opinion on December 30, 2015, the Superior Court held that the widow’s wrongful death claim was NOT subject to the waiver of liability and therefore, her claim could proceed. The court then granted motions for reargument, and in its November 2016 opinion, changed its ruling. Six of the nine judges joined in the majority opinion. The remaining three judges dissented on the issue of whether the waiver of liability barred the widow’s claim.
Because of the especially broad language of the 2+ page waiver, and because wrongful death claims are derived from the initial tort (wrongdoing), the court held that the waiver applied to the widow’s claim. Her claims against the sports organization were dismissed. She has since filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. It may be well over a year before the Supreme Court decides the case. It could go either way. The cases cited in both the majority and dissenting opinions on the issue of the waiver of liability as a bar to the widow’s claims seem to conflict with each other. Stay tuned.
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