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What is a Release of Liability?
A release of liability is a legal agreement between two parties in which one party waives the right to hold another party responsible for potential damages or injuries. When a party (the releasor) signs the waiver of liability, they are acknowledging that they understand the risks associated with an activity and will not sue the other party (the releasee) should an injury occur.
Other Names for a Release of Liability
- Waiver of Liability
- General Waiver
- Hold Harmless Agreement
- Liability Exemption
- Discharge of Liability
- Legal Release
- Exemption from responsibility
- Exemption of Liability
- Exoneration from Responsibility
- Exoneration of Liability
- Exculpatory Clause
- Conditional and Unconditional Waiver Form
- Liability Waiver Form
Here is an article about another type of release clause, an indemnification clause.
What’s Included in Release of Liability?
A release of liability can be formatted as either a stand-alone document or as a part of larger contract. The content of the waiver should be specific and customized to the situation for which it is being signed, but every general release form should contain the following key components:
Names and Addresses of Both Parties
It is important to make sure it is clear who the release applies to and which party is the releasor and which is the releasee. It is common to include a date in which the agreement is entered near the names of both parties.
Definition of Terms
A section defining words within the contract is helpful so both parties understand the meanings of all legal terms used. This avoids ambiguity or different interpretations of the contract.
Description of Possible Risks
It is important that the releasor is aware of the risks related to the activity and understands that by signing the waiver, they are now solely responsible for these risks.
Clear Statement of Release
A release of liability should include a statement that clearly articulates a statement of release. Below is an example of what a clear statement of release may look like:
“The undersigned hereby assumes all risk of injury or harm as a result of the activities specified above and agrees to release, indemnify, defend, and forever discharge the releasee from all liability, claims, demands, damages, costs, expenses, and causes of action due to death, injury, loss, or damage to the undersigned."
Every waiver of liability needs to include a signature block where both parties can sign and date the document. Some waivers will also require a witness signature, a notary acknowledgement, or both.
Here is an article that further explains definition clauses .
When to Use a Release of Liability
A release of liability is appropriate anytime its possible a person could be sued should something go wrong during an action being taken. Most commonly, a waiver of liability is signed before participating in an activity that involves some type of risk. However, these waivers can be used in a variety of situations. The following examples are the most common:
Example 1: Activities that involve risk.
Signing a waiver to participate in a possibly dangerous activity is very common. Many people sign waivers to workout at gyms, play golf, rent a boat or other vehicle, go horseback riding, or to participate in local events sponsored by churches or other organizations.
Example 2: Photographic releases.
A photographic release of liability allows a photographer to use or publish your photograph. A photo is often used for the purpose of profit like in an advertisement.
Here is an article on Photography Contracts .
Example 3: Mechanic’s lien release.
A mechanic’s lien release is a waiver by which a contractor forfeits their right to impose a lien on a property.
Example 4: Information releases.
An information release allows a third party to release confidential medical, financial, employment, or other information.
Liability releases can also be a good idea to use in certain personal situations. If you loan your car or a piece of heavy equipment like a lawn mower to a friend or neighbor, you may want to execute a waiver that releases you from liability in the event someone else hurts themselves while using your property.
Babysitters or pet sitters may also want to legally protect themselves while performing their duties. In addition, if you hire someone to do work at your house, a liability release may be appropriate.
Here is an article that further explains release clauses.
Are Release of Liability Forms Legally Enforceable?
Although it is prudent to have a release of liability, these waivers are not guaranteed to be enforceable in every situation or case. The enforceability of your agreement will depend on your state’s laws surrounding liability releases, the contract itself, and the level of negligence that caused the damages or injury.
Situations When a Release is Usually Enforceable
A release of liability will generally be enforced by courts if the agreement meets the following criteria:
- The waiver contains proper language, is clear, easy to read, and unambiguous
- The release does not violate any states laws or public policy
- The injury that occurs is clearly described in the release and related to the activity
- The injury did not occur due to gross negligence on the part of the releasee
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Situations When a Release is Not Upheld
In most states, a release of liability cannot protect the releasee from their own acts of negligence or from gross negligence. It is important for people or businesses to be able to limit their liability, however, the public is entitled to be protected from negligent acts.
For example , if a gym knowingly provides faulty equipment, they should not be absolved of liability when a customer is injured because the gym’s conduct was grossly negligent. In addition, if the injury occurred due to intentional acts, the waiver would not be enforceable.
Some states have statutes that limit the use of liability releases for certain activities. If an activity is inherently dangerous, the court may not recognize the release because the defendant is responsible for making sure the activity is safe.
For example , most states will not allow the use of waivers by a construction company for their employees. Employees are entitled to be protected while working dangerous jobs.
If a release is unclear, ambiguous, or difficult to read, a court may not uphold the waiver. A release of liability should be easy to understand for a person not trained in law. If you are signing a document waiving rights, you should be fully informed and understand what it is you are signing.
The type of negligence that occurs may also play a role in whether a waiver is upheld in court. Some releases cite coverage for specific acts of negligence. If an injury occurs due to negligence not covered in the release of liability, a court may not enforce the waiver.
It is important to remember that even if a release of liability is signed, under certain situations, an injured party may still be able to sue for damages. Courts in most states heavily scrutinize waivers so it is important if you are using a waiver of liability that it meets your state’s regulations.
Click here to read more about waivers.
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Meet some of our Release of Liability Lawyers
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I am an attorney located in Denver, Colorado with 13 years of experience working with individuals and businesses of all sizes. My primary areas of practice are general corporate/business law, real estate, commercial transactions and agreements, and M&A. I strive to provide exceptional representation at a reasonable price.
Chris Sawan is a JD/CPA who practices in the area of business law, contracts and franchising in the State of Ohio.
As an experienced contracts professional, I offer an affordable method to have your contracts reviewed! With my review of your contract, you can understand and reduce risks, negotiate better terms, and be your own advocate. I am an Attorney, Board Member, and Freelance Writer with a Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, in Film, Television and Theatre (“FTT”) from The University of Notre Dame. I was awarded The Catherine Hicks Award for outstanding work in FTT as voted on by the faculty. I graduated, cum laude, from Quinnipiac University School of Law, where I earned several awards for academics and for my work in the Mock Trial and Moot Court Honor Societies. Additionally, in my career, I have had much success as an in-house Corporate Attorney with a broad range of generalist experience and experience in handling a wide variety of legal matters of moderate to high exposure and complexity. My main focus in my legal career has been contract drafting, review, and negotiation. I also have a background in real estate, hospitality, sales, and sports and entertainment, among other things.
Elizabeth is an experienced attorney with a demonstrated history of handling transactional legal matters for a wide range of small businesses and entrepreneurs, with a distinct understanding of dental and medical practices. Elizabeth also earned a BBA in Accounting, giving her unique perspective about the financial considerations her clients encounter regularly while navigating the legal and business environments. Elizabeth is highly responsive, personable and has great attention to detail. She is also fluent in Spanish.
Abby is an attorney and public policy specialist who has fused together her experience as an advocate, education in economics and public health, and passion for working with animals to create healthier communities for people and animals alike. At Opening Doors PLLC, she helps housing providers ensure the integrity of animal accommodation requests, comply with fair housing requirements, and implement safer pet policies. Abby also assists residents with their pet-related housing problems and works with community stakeholders to increase housing stability in underserved communities. She is a nationally-recognized expert in animal accommodation laws and her work has been featured in The Washington Post, USA Today, Bloomberg, and Cosmopolitan magazine.
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