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When may a liability waiver be unenforceable?

If you're a parent, you've probably signed your fair share of liability waivers. Likely you haven't always read them or even realized that the liability waiver language was tucked in a permission slip for a field trip or other school activity as well as community sports programs. Liability waivers are common for many summer activities as well -- from day camps to swimming lessons to indoor activity centers.

Businesses, school districts and other entities require signed liability waivers because they want to avoid lawsuits if a child (or anyone) suffers an injury on their premises or while engaged in an activity that they're overseeing. That's why it's essential to read and understand any liability waiver before you sign it. By signing it, you're stipulating that you've read it. Therefore, if your child is injured and you want to take legal action, you can't claim later that you didn't read the waiver or understand it if your signature is there.

This doesn't mean that you can't take legal action even if there was a signed waiver in place. Some waivers can be deemed unenforceable in court. One example of a waiver that may not hold up in court is one that requires the signer to waive all liability -- including liability for reckless or intentional acts by those requiring the waiver. For example, if a camp counselor took kids into a dangerous area without proper supervision when they should have reasonably known the potential for harm, a liability waiver likely won't protect the camp owners.

A waiver may be considered unenforceable if someone deliberately causes harm or contributes to an injury. Maybe that camp counselor decides to make a game out of throwing kids into the deep end of a lake (whether they can swim or not) to see if they'll be able to make their way to shore. That could be grounds for civil action -- and potentially criminal charges.

The key takeaway here (besides the need to be vigilant about reading all liability waivers before you sign them) is not to assume that because you signed a liability waiver you have no recourse if your child suffers harm that you believe could and should have been prevented. It's best to seek the guidance of an attorney to determine whether you have legal recourse.

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