By Doyice Cotten
Nicholas Weinrich was injured in a go-kart race when he collided with a protruding section of the guardrail. Weinrich was not required to sign a pre-race waiver because he had signed one at a race six months earlier (Weinrich v. Lehigh Valley Grand Prix Inc., 2015). A primary issue in the case was whether the previous waiver was still in force – in other words, “What was the duration of the waiver?”
The relevant language of the release in question provides:
IN CONSIDERATION of being permitted to compete, officiate, observe, work, or participate in the EVENT(s), use the equipment, premises, facilities and/or services of Lehigh Valley Grand Prix, LLC., [the undersigned agrees to the release terms] …
The waiver neither limits the time for its applicability nor specifies the event or occasion to which it applies. Lehigh Valley counsel maintained that the waiver would be effective forever without limitation.
Weinrich argued that the waiver applied to the earlier race and was not enforceable for this event. Lehigh Valley, of course, argued that there was no expiration date on the waiver and they were protected by the earlier waiver. Complicating matters was the fact that no case law was found interpreting Pennsylvania law on this matter. Plaintiff relied on a Florida case (Cain v. Banka, 2006) in which a waiver was found unenforceable because it contained no language advising the plaintiff that it covered every future visit to a motocross track.
The Court on Pennsylvania Law
The court stated that “As a general rule, releases encompass only such matters as may fairly be said to have been within the contemplation of the parties when the release was given.” Further, it added that under principles of contract law, “the effect of a release must be determined from the ordinary meaning of its language.” The court stated that where a contract is silent as to the time for performance, it is the job of the court to infer “that the parties intended that performance occur within a reasonable amount of time;” if the exact period intended cannot be determined, the agreement is not invalidated – instead “an agreement for a ‘reasonable time’ will be inferred.”
What constitutes a “reasonable time,” however, is generally a question of fact to be resolved by the jury. Thus defendant’s argument for summary judgment based on the waiver is denied since summary judgment is appropriate only when there is no genuine issue of material fact. It is the job of the jury to determine whether six months following the execution of a release for a recreational activity constitutes a reasonable amount of time.
Risk Management Thoughts
Sadly, this whole case and issue could have been avoided had Lehigh Valley simply changed the wording of the waiver to read:
IN CONSIDERATION of being permitted to compete, officiate, observe, work, or participate in the EVENT(s), use the equipment, premises, facilities and/or services of Lehigh Valley Grand Prix, LLC., now or at any events in the future, [the undersigned agrees to the release terms] …
Then the intended duration of the waiver would have been clear, the waiver would have been enforced, and Lehigh Valley would have been protected.
Photo Credit: Thanks to Ian McWilliams on Flickr.