Many facilities—especially those involving sports or recreation activities—require their customers to sign a liability release form. The purpose is to absolve the operator of any liability when a customer is hurt when engaged in the activity. When injuries DO occur, many people think they don’t have a case because they signed the release form. But, depending on the circumstances, this is not always correct.
Oregon Certified Both Trainers and Facility
One of our cases involved a woman who ended up with $765,000 in medical bills and is permanently disfigured because of unsafe conditions and improper instruction at a basic motorcycle safety-training course. An active, 45-year-old woman, “TC” had never operated a motorcycle before and wanted to take an introductory motorcycle training course so that she would be safe in trying the new activity. Although both the location and instructor were provided by a state-approved program, the range did not meet safety standards and the instructor’s directions led to her crash. She is unable to work as she did before the crash and still faces the possibility of having her leg amputated.
Despite having signed a liability waiver, she successfully resolved her case against the State Department of Transportation and its agents (the defendants).
Why the State’s Program Was Liable for TC’s Injuries
The defendants had designed and maintained a non-standard motorcycle training range in Roseburg, Oregon to conduct their Basic Rider Training classes. They directed TC, a novice motorcycle trainee, to ride next to an unnecessary fixed concrete hazard. It was her crash into this hazard that caused her catastrophic injuries.
1 The overall training area (“range area”) was smaller than required and included an extremely dangerous concrete hazard
The program’s manual specifies that “the overall range area should be approximately 200’ x 300’ and be paved and free of potholes and other hazards and obstacles.” Their Roseburg range area was smaller than the specified standard size and was not free of hazards and obstacles. It contained a fixed concrete hazard on the southern side of the range. The size, shape, location, and material of the hazard created an extreme and foreseeable danger to beginner motorcycle trainees.
2 The range layout markings were non-standard
The program’s range standards, which reflect national practices, require a 120’ x 220’ painted layout within the 200’ x 300’ overall range area. Laser mapping revealed that the Roseburg range layout is nearly 10’ shorter than the standard, and the width is 15’ (12.5%) narrower than the standard. Shrinking the range area makes many of the exercises more difficult for novice riders.
3 The range did not have a sufficiently large and hazard-free “runoff” area
Many of the exercises that trainees were required to perform involved driving motorcycles outside the painted range markings and into the runoff area. Even novice trainees were required to ride dangerously close to the fixed concrete hazard. These photos show trainees in the Basic Rider Training program at Roseburg.
4 TC was injured when she was instructed to use this unreasonably dangerous range
The instructor told TC, who had never operated a motorcycle before that day, to perform a series of exercises on the unsafe range. TC and the other trainees completed introductory exercises, all of which were to follow specified procedures with defined routes, instructor locations, and instructor signals. Then, they began the next exercise, which started by having the students ride in a path around the inner range layout. Halfway through, they reversed direction—a maneuver that required the novice riders to make a much tighter turn than they had before. Shortly before, an instructor had told TC privately that she needed to speed up or she would be cut from the class. During the tight turn exercise, an instructor stood in a non-approved location and used non-standard hand signals that TC understood to require her to go faster. TC had to turn her head to look at the out-of-position motioning instructor, as she both tried to increase her speed and do the tight turn. TC did not turn tightly enough and crashed into the concrete hazard.
TC would not have been hurt if:
- Defendants had provided a safe range that complied with standards and did not have a dangerous concrete hazard on the side of the range.
- The instructor had followed the program’s own rules and stood in the correct location, used only approved hand signals, and not told TC she needed to go faster or be cut from the class.
The Extent of TC’s Catastrophic Injuries
1 Initial medical treatment
TC suffered life-changing injuries. Her initial diagnoses included a transection of her femoral artery, a grade IIIC open femur fracture, a right lateral tibial plateau fracture, and compartment syndrome in her right leg.
TC has since undergone numerous surgeries and procedures. Among other injuries, TC suffered rhabdomyolysis which required dialysis, she required skin and bone grafting, and she continues to suffer from drop foot.
TC’s doctors continue to discuss the need for additional bone-grafting surgeries or possible amputation of her right leg, due to chronic infections from the non-union of the femur, resulting in severe limitations.
TC is the sole caretaker for her autistic son, who has now had to take on the responsibility of assisting her in some ways. She is self-employed and has had to turn down jobs because of the physical requirements of the work. TC has to walk with a crutch and keeps a wheelchair in her car in case she gets tired. She uses a walker in her own house because she can’t carry anything that requires two hands (due to the crutch). When in public, people sometimes stare at TC with her deformities.
Bottom Line: The Liability Release was Not Enforceable
Defendants had required, as a condition of providing their motorcycle training classes, that all students sign a formal anticipatory release of all liability, and TC complied. Along with our co-counsel Derek Larwick, we argued on TC’s behalf that, under current Oregon law, the release was unenforceable because:
a. of the public service nature of the activities,
b. it was an unconscionable and unfair contract of adhesion, and
c. it was unlawfully over-broad.