Recent Amusement Park and Summer Fun Accidents Highlight the Importance of Understanding Waivers Before Signing

DarrasLaw, America's Top disability firm discusses recent accidents and waivers of liability.

July 23, 2013

A water ride accident at Shoot the Rapids at Cedar point injured seven on Friday in Ohio. The death of Rosy Esparza who fell from the Texas Giant roller coaster at Six Flags, also on Friday, raises questions about summer fun, waivers and liability.

Several weeks ago, two teens were seriously injured during a parasailing ride in Panama City Beach, Florida. Alexis Fairchild, 17, and Sidney Good, 17, were in the hospital after their tow rope snapped and the wind smashed them into two condominiums and dropped them into a parking lot. Both girls suffered severe brain trauma and back injuries and Fairchild has undergone spinal surgery. According to WJHD, this isn't the first accident on record for the parasailing company - Aquatic Adventures.

Aquatic Adventures released this statement on Wednesday in regards to the recent accident. "While we adhere to best practices to minimize the risks associated with watersport activities, sudden weather conditions can and do occur. As a full investigation is ongoing, we are unable to comment further at this time," said Jeff Jones, owner of Aquatic Adventures.

While the investigation is ongoing, the incident brings up an important issue when it comes to adventure sports - protecting individual interests in the face of accident waivers. Waivers becoming increasingly common as businesses attempt to escape from liability. These waivers are common for extreme sports, like parasailing and bungee jumping, as well as "calmer" activities like boating, petting zoos, and even yoga.

"It may seem ridiculous to have to sign a waiver for attending a yoga class, but some insurance companies are demanding them to protect businesses they insure. Make sure to read over the waiver before signing and don't sign unless you are sure you understand it. For the most part, you are waiving your right to sue the company if injury occurs," says Frank N. Darras, America's top disability insurance lawyer.

The majority of waivers require individuals to waive their right to sue the company if injury occurs as a result of participating unless the operator is grossly negligent or shows an indifference to one's safety. Proving gross negligence can be harder than it looks as companies often argue the event was unforeseeable or an act of God where weather is a factor.

According to CBS, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have said in a statement that "a strong storm initiated problems that led to the crash" in Panama City. While this most certainly could be the cause, a similar incident has happened with the same company, in the past, so if a pattern of gross negligence can be linked, recovery may happen.

The fine print on tickets purchased to attend an amusement park, are actually contracts which contain waivers of liability. If the person injured has engaged in activity that is inherently dangerous, the waiver can protect the amusement park and its interests. The caveat is that amusement parks have "thrill" rides and anyone riding could be considered to be engaging in "inherently dangerous" behavior. However, if we follow the rules, we shouldn't ever waive our right to justice where the operator disregards our safety. Additionally, waivers are not necessarily enforceable when a ride is not properly maintained and serviced, resulting in serious injuries or death.

"Be careful and make sure you read what you're signing when it comes to waivers. Some states enforce waivers strictly, while others are more relaxed. The fine print matters, so read carefully," says Darras.