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Road Rights- Signing Your Life Away?

Legal waivers are a necessary part of organized rides—but they don’t apply to every mishap.

By Bob Mionske


If you’ve ever participated in an organized ride or race, you probably signed a release—a document that protects the event organizer from liability for negligence if you are injured or killed, or if your bike is damaged. You’re typically required to sign the release before you’re allowed to participate.

This situation creates a conundrum for cyclists. By signing, you’re agreeing to waive some legal rights in the event of injury. But without liability releases there would be few such events, because organizers wouldn’t want to assume the legal risk of holding one. When asked, I usually recommend organizers require one.

But what if something goes wrong and you are injured? Signing the release doesn’t mean you have no recourse if someone else is at fault. Your options vary depending on what happened and the ride’s location.

First of all, any participants not named in the release may be held liable if they played a part in your injury. The parties named in the release are protected, but not from liability for gross or criminal negligence, recklessness or intentional acts—like if an event volunteer does something so reckless that it is almost inevitable riders will be injured.

Even if something unforeseeable happened—for example, a car appeared on a closed course—the release may not protect organizers against the ordinary negligence of a volunteer allowing the car into the ride. And if organizers proffer a release that claims to shield them against liability for all acts, don’t worry: Courts have shot down releases claiming such all-encompassing coverage.

In some jurisdictions, releases are essentially worthless. This is because some officials believe as a matter of public policy that letting people escape liability for negligence is a bad idea. So if you get hurt on an organized ride, don’t assume you’re stuck with the tab.

WAIVERS 101

Who Can’t Sign

If a rider is younger than 18, his signature on a contract is unenforceable. As for parents who sign a waiver on the child’s behalf? That signature is no more legally binding than the child’s.

Who Is Protected

The people and parties named in the release. This typically includes event organizers, officials and volunteers, event sponsors, medical personnel, relevant governmental entities and participating clubs. Some releases may include other riders as well.

Who Isn’t Protected

Any party not named. If another rider not mentioned in the waiver or a driver on an open course causes you to crash, you may have legal rights against those parties.

…..

Research and drafting provided by Rick Bernardi, JD.

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This article, Signing Your Life Away?, was originally published on Bicycling on March 16, 2011.

Now read the fine print:
Bicycle and the Law, Bob MionskeBob Mionske is a former competitive cyclist who represented the U.S. at the 1988 Olympic games (where he finished fourth in the road race), the 1992 Olympics, as well as winning the 1990 national championship road race.
After retiring from racing in 1993, he coached the Saturn Professional Cycling team for one year before heading off to law school. Mionske's practice is now split between personal-injury work, representing professional athletes as an agent and other legal issues facing endurance athletes (traffic violations, contract, criminal charges, intellectual property, etc).
Mionske is also the author of Bicycling and the Law, designed to be the primary resource for cyclists to consult when faced with a legal question. It provides readers with the knowledge to avoid many legal problems in the first place, and informs them of their rights, their responsibilities, and what steps they can take if they do encounter a legal problem.
 
If you have a cycling-related legal question, please send it to mionskelaw@hotmail.com Bob will answer as many of these questions privately as he can. He will also select a few questions each week to answer in this column. General bicycle-accident advice can be found at www.bicyclelaw.com.
Important notice:
The information provided in the "Road Rights" column is not legal advice. The information provided on this public web site is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors to this web site. The information contained in the column applies to general principles of American jurisprudence and may not reflect current legal developments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and therefore should not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Understand that reading the information contained in this column does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Bob Mionske. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained in the web site without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.

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