Are pre-injury waivers of liability valid in Virginia?
Many businesses require participants or their parents to sign a waiver of liability form. In the fine print the forms state that the business it is not liable for negligence and a host of other bad things that could happen. We've all seen these waivers and probably signed hundreds of similar ones. A few of us have actually read them. Fortunately they have very little legal impact in Virginia.
A number of years ago the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that pre-injury waivers and releases are invalid as against public policy. The case involved someone who was participa ting in a triathalon. He signed a waiver and due to the alleged negligence of the operators he sustained a catastrophic injury. He broke his neck and suffered paralysis. The operators denied liability on the ground that he had signed a release before participating.
The Supreme Court of Virginia disagreed. The Court held that one of the purposes of tort law is to encourage responsible conduct. If a business can escape liability for its negligence by requiring participants to sign a pre-injury release, then they lose the financial incentive to exercise caution and to take reasonable steps to prevent injuries. It was a good decision and it remains the law today in Virginia.