Signed Release Agreements Do Not Bar All Claims

Date: December 27, 2006

Everyone has signed a document at one time or another which restricted his/her right to pursue a claim for damages against another person or entity even if the person or entity was careless or negligent.  Most times we do not even know we are signing these type of release agreements as most of us never even read them.  The language comprising these types of releases is often times inserted into other documents we sign and no one ever discloses its presence.

 A prime example of this type of release is the ski lift ticket you purchase at a ski resort.  The small print on the back of the ticket usually sets forth language releasing the ski resort from any form of liability if you are injured on its’ property even if it was negligent in causing your injuries.  The ski resort will usually include this language in documents you sign at the time you purchase the lift ticket as well.  Most people never read this small print.  The ski resort’s clerk simply tells the customer to sign the document and its effect is never explained to the customer.

 Historically, Pennsylvania Courts have enforced these type of boiler-plate release agreements even though most people never read them or even know they signed off on one until they attempt to present a claim.  However, a recent decision of the Pennsylvania Superior Court in Chepkevich v. Hidden Valley Resort (November 13, 2006) held that a skier could maintain a negligence claim against a ski resort even though she had signed a release agreement.  The Court reasoned that because there was no definition of the term “negligence” in the release agreement signed by the skier it was unclear whether the release specifically disclaimed liability for the type of occurence which resulted in the skier’s injuries.  Additionally, a ski lift operator apparently agreed to stop the chair lift to allow the skier to board immediately prior to her accident.  The ski lift operator did not stop the lift as promised and this is when and how the skier was injured.  The Court held that if an agreement was reached between the ski lift operator and the skier, this subsequent agreement may supersede the terms and effect of the release agreement.   

If you or a loved one are injured due to another’s negligence or carelessness and you believe you may have signed a release agreement which prevents you from pursuing a personal injury claim, contact DLP to find out what options and rights you may have to pursue a claim against the negligent party.  Remember, although release agreements are generally enforceable, they must specifically define the conduct to which liability is being disclaimed, and there may be other circumstances in your case which would render the release agreement void and unenforceable, thus allowing you to pursue a claim for damages.  Contact DLP at 570-347-1011 with any questions.

JOHN P. FINNERTY, Esquire  

Joe Price
Attorney Joe Price is a seasoned Trial Lawyer serving Northeast, Central and Southeast Pennsylvania for the past forty (40) years. He has handled serious personal injury cases in courts throughout the Federal system including New Jersey and New York. Attorney Price is A.V. Rated by Martindale Hubble. He is Board Certified in Civil Practice by the National Board of Trial Advocacy since 1996.