At some point in time, just about everyone encounters a release of liability, whether it be in a personal or business setting. Such legal forms are designed to guard against lawsuits by addressing potential personal injuries, property damage, or various commercial rights.
Overview of Liability Releases
Such documents are advisable for any person or company engaging in an activity that could conceivably give rise to litigation. With a release of liability, also known as a hold harmless agreement or a waiver of liability, the party waiving liability is called the releasor, while the party being released from liability is known as the releasee.
A waiver of liability generally applies to injuries or damages that any person might incur in the normal course of the covered activity. However, the document generally does not absolve the releasee of liability for its own acts of negligence. For example, if you rent a boat to someone, a release may clear you of responsibility if the renter falls down on the boat and gets injured, but it won't absolve you if the boat catches on fire because you failed to properly maintain it.
Use of Release Forms
As either a stand-alone document or part of a more comprehensive contract, a release of liability can be prepared and signed in advance or after an injury has occurred. Such forms can be used in a large number of situations, including:
- Activities that involve some type of risk. Some examples include whitewater rafting, zip lining, boat rentals, gyms, baseball batting cages, and golf courses and driving ranges. The form also has noncommercial applications, such as for school field trips and activities sponsored by churches or other charitable organizations.
- Car accidents. This typically involves paying money for injuries or damages in return for a release of any further liability.
- Photographic releases. These authorize the use of photographs and videos of or taken by a person.
- Mechanic's lien releases. These can release property from liens, or potential liens, by someone who performs construction or repair work on the property. For example, if you hire a general contractor to build an addition for your home, that contractor may hire subcontractors to do part of the work. As a condition of your paying the contractor, you may want to get a mechanic's lien release from both the general contractor and the subcontractor.
- Information releases. These allow third parties to release confidential medical, financial, employment, or other information.
- Selling a car. Some states require the buyer to sign a release that protects the seller from any liability in the event the buyer is involved in a collision or incurs tickets for traffic or parking violations. This is a good idea even if not required in your state.
There are also common personal situations where you may want to consider using a release of liability form. These include loaning a car, lawn mower, or other machinery to a friend or neighbor, when you or your child are babysitting or pet sitting, or when you hire someone to do yard work or a minor home maintenance chore.
Contents of a Release of Liability
The exact content of the form should be tailored to the specific situation. A release of liability after a car accident, for example, will be considerably different from a waiver of liability release form for skydiving. Generally, a waiver should include the names of the releaser and releasee, as well as a description of the nature of the liability being released. The document may also describe the risks the releasor is assuming.
A standard release of liability in most personal injury waivers includes a statement similar to: “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."
In general, if you foresee the possibility of getting sued, try to get a release form signed. Although it cannot guarantee you won't be held liable, it may make it more likely that you can escape or limit your liability.