Courts in most states have shown a willingness to enforce liability waivers/releases – as long as the court was convinced that the documents were properly worded and signed. In the 47 states with Equine Activity Liability Acts (all states except for California, Maryland, and New York), can a pre-incident waiver/release, signed by the claimant, waive a claim based on the statute?
Over the years, courts in several states have explored this question. Most courts have answered “YES.”
The current majority view is that releases can bar claims based on an Equine Activity Liability Act (“EALA”), except for claims where the plaintiff has alleged “gross negligence” or “willful and/or wanton conduct.” This type of wrongdoing, most courts say, cannot be released. States where courts have ruled this way include Massachusetts, Utah, Colorado, Georgia, Ohio, Minnesota, Michigan, and Florida.
The current minority view is that EALA claims cannot be released. States where courts have ruled this way include New Jersey, Connecticut, and Tennessee.
Courts give releases of liability intense scrutiny. Those who use releases of liability should make sure that their documents comply with applicable state laws and are properly presented. Also, remember that releases are not a substitute for liability insurance; people who sign releases can, and sometimes do, file lawsuits. With this in mind, liability insurance is always important.