That Waiver You Signed May Not Mean You Wave Goodbye to Your Right to Sue (Part 1 of 2)
A few weeks ago, Piccuta Law Group attorney, Charles “Tony” Piccuta, was interviewed for a story in the Monterey County Weekly newspaper. The story involved a 25 year old man, James Chapman, who suffered injuries while participating in a Spartan race in Monterey County last June. Chapman, a former avid athlete with a chemical engineering degree, dove into a muddy pool of water head first. He hit his head at the bottom, fractured two cervical vertebrae and is now a quadriplegic.
For those who don’t know, a Spartan race is best described as a combination army obstacle course meets mud run. Originally, the Spartan races were considered extreme endurance events with a grass roots following of individuals who participated. However, since those initial races, the popularity of Spartan races exploded. Now there are races in multiple countries that vary in length and difficulty.
The company that puts on these races learned how to appeal to the general masses and monetize those efforts. The same company also picked up mainstream sponsors along the way including Reebok and NBC Universal. According to a 2013 Forbes article, Reebok partnered up with Spartan as its event title partner. NBC Universal televises Spartan races on it network assumedly paying an unknown amount for this privilege.
Spartan now maximizes its profits by catering to weekend warriors and the average gym joe. The cost to participate in a race varies between $85-169 depending on how early you sign up, what day you race and what time slot you are in. At the June 2015 Monterey County race, there were over 7000 participants. You can do the math. In addition, Spartan races charge for friends and family to watch (as much as $20 per person), event parking ($10 for cars, $20 for vans and $50 for buses and RVs) and concessions sold at its races. There is no doubt that this is a for profit business.
Piccuta has participated in four Spartan races including the June 2015 race in Monterey County mentioned above. When asked about the races he stated “these races are held in large fields or open areas which I assume can be reserved inexpensively. Obstacles are set up and torn down in a matter of days—similar to how a circus comes into town. My understanding is that several of the individuals who work the event are volunteers who are doing so in exchange for free race admission. In my experience, the races are understaffed, there is no real order and the people who are working and volunteering are unorganized. I imagine that these races are profitable to the companies involved. I also assume the largest expense of each race is the liability insurance policy that is likely required by the landowner providing the venue.”
Before racers participate in a Spartan race they are required to sign a waiver and release of liability. The waiver supposedly serves to eliminate all liability of the Spartan race and its sponsors. The waiver required to participate in the 2016 Monterey County Spartan race states that racers “waive, release and discharge” the Spartan affiliated companies “with respect to any suits, claims, or loss and all injury, disability, death, and/or loss or damage to person or property…” Apparently, by signing this waiver the participant knows what he is “signing up” for and is prepared to pay the consequences. This begs the question, “If a waiver was signed, how then can a racer then sue for his injury?”
The answer is simple. Signing a waiver does not prevent a lawsuit from being filed. It “may” however, prevent the injured participant from prevailing in the lawsuit by giving the defendants a rock solid defense. In other words, by providing the defendants a contractual basis that absolves them from liability. However, “may” should not be understated. Whether or not that waiver is enforceable is a legal question that a court will be required to decide. There are several reasons why a waiver may be held unenforceable or deemed invalid. [Please see part 2 of 2 of this blog Post for a discussion on the enforceability of a release of liability waiver]