Can Premise Liability Releases Hold Up In Court?

The Law and You

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Liability releases can be difficult to understand. In some cases, businesses use vaguely worded releases to waive liability on their part when someone is injured or killed.

This is exactly what happened with an Oregon snowboarder.

Myles Bagely was enjoying a day on the slopes in 2006 when he suffered a devastating injury while snowboarding off a jump at Mt. Bachelor. The jump was built by Mt. Bachelor as part of a terrain park. Mr. Bagely was paralyzed from the waist down after going off the jump. The problem was the resort had a signed waiver from Mr. Bagely, essentially releasing them from any liability from injury or death. The ski resort’s attorney claimed that skiing or snowboarding is inherently dangerous, and the participant must take the risks of man-made jumps into account.

In addition to the liability release form that Myles signed, he possessed a ticket that allowed him access to the chair lifts around the resort. On the back of the ticket was a release of all claims against Mount Bachelor, it’s employees and agents.

Attorneys working on behalf of the injured party and his family argued that the resort should have “exercised reasonable care” when it came to designing and building the jump that Myles went off of, causing his paralysis. The Circuit Court disagreed, and cited the signed liability release in throwing out the lawsuit.

Court’s Decision Sets Precedent for Future Liability Cases

Fortunately for Myles and his family, the Oregon Supreme Court saw it differently. It ruled the lower courts had erred, and that liability releases violate the public interest and are unconscionable, therefore rendering them invalid. The court noted that the injury was caused by negligence in designing and maintaining the jump and therefore the family was able to sue.

The bottom line is that you always should read a liability release before signing. Just because one is signed, you are not necessarily waiving your rights. Always exercise caution when participating in anything with risks involved, and when in doubt about the validity of a release form, seek out legal advice.