California Court Revives a Premises Liability Lawsuit, Despite the Existence of a Validly Signed Liability Waiver

As you may know if you’ve attended certain events, property owners and event organizers sometimes may seek to use forms with titles like “release and waiver of liability” to limit their possibility of having pay damages for injury accidents that occur on their properties. If you are someone entering a property whose owner is requiring such a form, it is extremely important to make sure you understand exactly what you’re signing before you sign it.

However, even if you did sign, even if it is enforceable and even if it is broad in its coverage, that doesn’t mean that you are completely without options if you’re hurt while on that property. A recent ruling in a Northern California accident case is a good reminder that possibilities for success in a premises liability case can still exist, even in the face of a signed waiver. To discover what options you have for recovering the compensation you need, talk to an experienced San Mateo personal injury attorney right away.

The injured person in that recent accident case was G.V., an attendee at a two-day motorcycle race held in a remote part of San Benito County. He was there to watch his grandson participate in the race. When the grandfather and grandson entered, race organizers had each man sign a “Release and Waiver of Liability” form.

Once inside, the elder man spotted a chemical toilet (a/k/a porta-potty) on a trailer. Race organizers had placed the toilet there because it was missing a crucial piece and was unstable. Unfortunately, G.V. did not know that. According to the family’s lawsuit, there were no gates, no fences, no locks and no warning signs on or around the toilet to warn attendees not to use it. G.V. tried to enter the toilet but, when he did, the entire trailer tipped over, pitching the man to the ground. G.V. suffered a broken hip and died roughly two weeks later.

The family sued the motorcycle club for G.V.’s harm, asserting a claim of premises liability. The motorcycle club attempted to rely heavily on the waiver form in arguing that it could not be found liable for the accident.

‘Gross’ negligence versus ‘ordinary’ negligence — why the difference matters

The waiver form was valid and was extremely broad. However, under California law, even valid and broad-ranging waivers cannot prevent a lawsuit if the plaintiffs have presented a viable claim that the defendant was something the law calls “grossly negligent.”

Most types of negligence are what’s called “ordinary” negligence. However, if the defendant’s conduct was “an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct” or demonstrated a lack of “even scant care,” then that’s gross negligence and California law says that a waiver agreement cannot insulate a party from liability for its gross negligence.

The club argued that it placed the toilet on a trailer, in a storage area, “surrounded by a woodchipper, [a] backhoe, dump trucks, Conex storage containers, and a pumping machine.” This, the club argued, showed that it exercised some amount of care. However, the toilet was just a few feet, and in clear view, from the exact spot where race organizers allegedly told the grandson to park his van. This, the appeals court ruled, was enough that a jury could reasonably rule that the club had engaged in no meaningful care, or an “extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct,” meaning that the club would be grossly negligent.

Sometimes, you may feel that the odds are stacked against you. The person or entity responsible for your harm may try to tell you the odds are stacked against you, just to get you to accept a lowball settlement or drop your case altogether. Do not fall into the trap of giving up. Instead, talk to the knowledgeable San Mateo personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos. Our attorneys have been helping injured people to obtain fair and appropriate outcomes in premises liability and other injury lawsuits for many years. To set up a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys, contact us at 650-345-8484 or through our website.