Court Upholds “Release of Liability” Form in Whitewater Rafting Accident

Earlier this month, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals decided a case involving a wrongful death claim brought against a whitewater rafting tour company, alleging that the company’s negligence resulted in the death of the individual. Ultimately, however, the court affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the claims based on a valid “release of liability” form signed by the deceased prior to embarking.

rafting-at-granback-1466831Espinoza v. Arkansas Valley Adventures: The Facts of the Case

The deceased contracted with the defendant tour guide company to take her and a group of family members on a whitewater rafting excursion down the Arkansas River in Colorado. The trip began as most do, with the proper preparation and planning. However, when the rafters approached a notorious rapid known as “Seidel’s Suck Hole,” the raft capsized.

Everyone aboard the raft was thrown into the water. Shortly afterward, everyone on the trip was retrieved by staff members of the defendant except the deceased. Tragically, she drowned before anyone could get to her. Her son brought a wrongful death action against the rafting company, claiming negligence per se and fraud.

It is not disputed that the deceased signed a waiver of liability form prior to embarking on the fatal journey. The defendant asked the court to dismiss the case based on that waiver of liability. Agreeing with the defendant, the lower court dismissed the case, and the plaintiff appealed.

The Enforceability of Release Waivers

The Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision was focused on whether the waiver could be enforced against the plaintiff. If it could, the lower court was correct in dismissing the case. However, if the contract between the deceased and the defendant was not enforceable, the case should be permitted to move towards trial.

The court first noted that, as a general policy rule, defendants are not permitted to “contract away” liability for their own intentional or reckless misconduct. However, such actions were not alleged here. Instead, the question was whether allowing a defendant to contract away its own negligent behavior was allowed under current state laws.

The court determined that the contract was a valid release of liability. The court looked to a previous case that presented a similar question and considered several factors, including:

  • Did the defendant owe a duty to the public?
  • What was the nature of the service the defendant was performing at the time of the accident?
  • Was the contract fairly entered into?
  • Did the parties use clear and unambiguous language?

Determining that the balance of these factors weighed in favor of the defendant, the court affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the wrongful death lawsuit.

Have You Been Injured in a Pay-to-Play Activity?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Maryland pay-to-play activity, such as rafting, bungee jumping, skydiving, or any other potentially dangerous activity or sport, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. However, as the case discussed above explains, if you signed a release of liability, that is likely something that the defendant will bring up as a defense. It is important to realize that not all releases are valid, and some may be challenged in court. To learn more about these cases, and to discuss your accident with a skilled personal injury advocate, call 410-654-3600 today to set up a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

How to Tell Whether You Have Been the Victim of Medical Malpractice, Maryland Accident Law Blog, December 15, 2015.

Court Holds Hospital Slip-and-Fall Accident Does Not Trigger Medical Malpractice Requirements, Maryland Accident Law Blog, January 4, 2016.

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