If you’ve ever participated in an extreme activity (scuba diving, sky diving, auto racing, paintball, etc.), you’ve probably had to sign a release. On more than one occasion I’ve had the opportunity to participate in such activities and I’ve often remarked, as I sign the release, that “I’m signing my life away.”
I’ve had several people ask me lately if a company can enforce a release if the person is injured while involved in the activity which required them to sign the release.
Despite all the legal language that makes up a release, if you are injured due to someone else’s negligence, you should know that you don’t necessarily sign away your life just because you sign a release. A recent case from the Third District Court of Appeal illustrates this concept perfectly.
In Diodato v. Islamorada Asset Management, Inc., D12-3393, 39 Fla. L. Weekly D913 (Fla. Dist. Ct. of App. May 9, 2014), the Court dealt with the issue of whether a scuba diving company could enforce prior releases signed by Ms. Diodato. Her estate brought a wrongful death claim against the scuba diving company after she died during a dive in the Florida Keys. While the case provides detailed facts surrounding the tragic death of Ms. Diodato, the pertinent fact is that Ms. Diodato signed two releases with the same scuba diving company prior to her death. One release was signed over a year before her death and another release was signed a day before her death.
The Third District Court of Appeal in Diodato noted that in Florida “exculpatory clauses are disfavored and are enforceable only where and to the extent that the intention to be relieved from liability was made clear and unequivocal and the wording must be so clear and understandable that an ordinary and knowledgeable person will know what he is contracting away.” Moreover, a “release containing exculpatory language is part of a commercial transaction having a discernible scope and term.”
In other words, for a release to be valid and relieve a company from liability in Florida, the release should be written in plain English and should properly define the rights you are giving up.
When applying these concepts, the court found that the scope and terms of the prior releases signed by Ms. Diodato did not apply to the diving trip that caused her death. In fact, the scuba diving company had a specific release for the trip that Ms. Diodato went on when she died but failed to have her sign that release.
So, if you’ve been injured because of someone else’s negligence while involved in an activity where you had to sign a release, don’t give up hope because you signed a release. Call The Pansler Law Firm today and speak with an attorney about your case during a free consultation.
Written by Christopher Ison, Esq.
The Pansler Law Firm
223 North Florida Ave
Lakeland, FL 33801