By Doyice Cotten
Pablo Torres, an experienced motocross rider, signed a waiver, paid a fee to enter a race, participated in a motocross race, fell when his cycle was bumped from behind, and suffered an injury when he struck a hard object not far from the track.
Apparently, the management had put in a sprinkler system near the track, leaving an exposed PVC pipe. This was denied by management, but a witness said he saw it. After the accident, there was no pipe to be found, but there was a ditch where something had been removed.
Torres sued alleging negligence and gross negligence (Torres v. Long Island Motocross Association Inc., 2014 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 3168).
New York Law
Pertinent NY waiver law can be summarized as follows:
- In the absence of a contravening public policy, waivers intended to protect a party from liability for negligence are generally enforced.
- Waivers are disfavored by the law and must be closely scrutinized by the courts.
- Waiver language must express, in unequivocal terms, the intention to relieve a provider of liability for provider negligence.
- Waivers are viewed as wholly void that purport to protect the provider from liability for willful or grossly negligent acts.
- Waivers where a special relationship exists between the parties such that there is an overriding public interest are not enforceable.
Key language in the points cited above is the first phrase “In the absence of a contravening public policy.” A New York statute, General Obligations Law 5-326 states:
“Agreements exempting pools, gymnasiums, places of public amusement or recreation and similar establishments from liability for negligence void and unenforceable”
“Every covenant, agreement or understanding in or in connection with, or collateral to, any contract, membership application, ticket of admission or similar writing, entered into between the owner or operator of any pool, gymnasium, place of amusement or recreation, or similar establishment and the user of such facilities, pursuant to which such owner or operator receives a fee or other compensation for the use of such facilities, which exempts the said [*10] owner or operator from liability for damages caused by or resulting from the negligence of the owner, operator or person in charge of such establishment, or their agents, servants or employees, shall be deemed to be void as against public policy and wholly unenforceable.”
Long Island Motocross argued that Torres was not entitled to invoke GOL 5-326 because Torres was a novice rider and not a “user” as defined in the statute. The court stated that “If the placement of the PVC pipe can be regarded as gross negligence, whether the plaintiff is a statutory user is academic as the statute does not exempt a party’s gross negligence.” Further, it stated that if the placement is ordinary negligence, the statute applies and the waiver fails to protect. The court opined that GOL 5-326 applied in this instance, thus the waiver was not enforceable.
The court ruled that summary judgment for the defendant, Long Island Motocross, is denied.
The waiver language is detailed and would probably have been effective had it not been in violation of New York Public Policy:
“Acknowledges, agrees, and represents that he have or will immediately upon entering any of such RESTRICTED AREAS, and will continuously thereafter, inspect the RESTRICTED AREAS which he enters, and he further agrees and warrants that, if at any time, he is in or about RESTRICTED AREAS and he feels anything to be unsafe, he will immediately advise the officials of such and if necessary will leave the RESTRICTED AREAS and/or refuse to participate further in the EVENT(S).
HEREBY RELEASES, WAIVES, DISCHARGES, AND COVENANTS NOT TO SUE the promoters, participants, racing associations, sanctioning organizations or any subdivision thereof, track operators, track owners, officials, motorcycle owners, riders, pit crews, rescue personnel, any persons in any RESTRICTED AREA, promoters, sponsors, advertisers, owners and lessees of premises used to conduct the EVENT(S), premises and event inspectors, surveyors, underwriters, consultants and others who give recommendations, directions, or instructions or engage in risk evaluation or loss control activities regarding the premises or EVENT(S) and each of them, their directors, officers, agents and employees, all for the purposes herein referred to as “Releasees,” FROM ALL LIABILITY TO THE UNDERSIGNED, his personal representatives, assigns, heirs, and next of kin FOR ANY AND ALL LOSS OR DAMAGE, AND ANY CLAIM OR DEMANDS THEREFORE ON ACCOUNT OF INJURY TO THE PERSON OR PROPERTY OR RESULTING IN DEATH OF THE UNDERSIGNED ARISING OUT OF OR RELATED TO THE EVENT(S), WHETHER CAUSED BY THE NEGLIGENCE OF THE RELEASEES OR OTHERWISE.
HEREBY AGREES TO INDEMNIFY AND SAVE AND HOLD HARMLESS the Releasees and their insurance carrier, and each of them FROM ANY LOSS, LIABILITY, DAMAGE, OR COST they may incur arising out of or related to the EVENT(S) WHETHER CAUSED BY THE NEGLIGENCE OF THE RELEASEES OR OTHERWISE.
HEREBY ASSUMES FULL RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY RISK OF BODILY INJURY, DEATH OR PROPERTY DAMAGE, arising out of or related to the EVENT(S) whether caused by the NEGLIGENCE OF RELEASEES or otherwise.
HEREBY acknowledges that THE ACTIVITIES OF THE EVENT(S) ARE VERY DANGEROUS and involve the risk of serious injury and/or death and/or property damage. Each of the UNDERSIGNED also expressly acknowledges that INJURIES RECEIVED MAY BE COMPOUNDED OR INCREASED BY NEGLIGENT RESCUE OPERATIONS OR PROCEDURES OF THE RELEASEES.
IF, DESPITE THIS RELEASE, I OR ANYONE ON MY BEHALF MAKES A CLAIM AGAINST THE “RELEASEES” NAMED ABOVE, I AGREE TO INDEMNIFY AND SAVE AND HOLD HARMLESS THE RELEASEES AND THEIR INSURANCE CARRIER, AND EACH OF THEM FROM ANY LITIGATION EXPENSES, ATTORNEYS’ FEES, LOSS, LIABILITY, DAMAGE OR COSTS THEY MAY INCUR DUE TO THE CLAIM MADE AGAINST ANY OF THE “RELEASEES” NAMED ABOVE, WHETHER THE CLAIM IS BASED ON THE NEGLIGENCE OF THE RELEASEE OR OTHERWISE.
Hereby agrees that in the event that I sustain any injury while in any Restricted Areas that any rescue personnel or medical personnel may release such medical information about my condition to representatives of the promoter, sanctioning organization, track operator, or track owner, as necessary to allow such individuals to properly report that information to appropriate representatives of the sanctioning organization and/or insurance carriers.
HEREBY agrees that this Release and Waiver of Liability, Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement extends to all acts of negligence by the Releasees, INCLUDING NEGLIGENT RESCUE OPERATIONS and is intended to be as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the laws of the Province or State in which the Event(s) is/are conducted and that if any portion hereof is held invalid, it is agreed that the balance shall, notwithstanding continue in full legal force and effect.
I HAVE READ THIS RELEASE AND WAIVER OF LIABILITY, ASSUMPTION OF RISK AND INDEMNITY AGREEMENT, FULLY UNDERSTAND ITS TERMS, UNDERSTAND THAT I HAVE GIVEN UP SUBSTANTIAL RIGHTS BY SIGNING IT, AND HAVE SIGNED IT FREELY AND VOLUNTARILY WITHOUT ANY INDUCEMENT, ASSURANCE OR GUARANTEE BEING MADE TO ME AND INTEND MY SIGNATURE TO BE A COMPLETE AND UNCONDITIONAL RELEASE OF ALL LIABILITY TO THE GREATEST EXTENT ALLOWED BY LAW.
Photo Credit: Thanks to Tom Reynolds at Flickr.
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