Liability waivers

Ski lift ticket closeup

Renting skis, climbing a rock wall, skydiving — if there’s danger involved, the business will probably ask you sign something. These liability waivers impact your rights.

What you should know

"You assume all risks, even if arising from our negligence."

You may have seen a statement like this when taking part in an activity. With this, companies are trying to limit their legal responsibility. It is often called a waiver of liability or release.

Sometimes they’re valid, sometimes not. Ready to find out more?

There’s an implied promise that a business will take care of your safety. They have to use reasonable care when dealing with you. Reasonable means what a reasonable person would do in similar circumstances.

Some service providers use a waiver of liability to protect themselves from responsibility for any injuries you suffer. This is a form or clause that you sign off on (often in complex legalese), like:

“I agree to waive any claims that I may have against the service provider from any and all liability for any loss, damage, expense or injury, including death, that I may suffer as a result of my participation in the activities, due to any cause whatsoever, including negligence on the service provider’s part.”

By signing the waiver, or even just taking part in the activity, you agree to give up your legal right to sue them if you suffer harm — even if it results from their failure to take reasonable care.

These waivers are everywhere. Signs all over ski hills. Notices at a parking lot. In your yoga contract. Savvy businesses will use this legal trick to prevent as much liability as they can!

For a waiver to be valid:

  • the provider must take reasonable steps to bring the waiver to your attention before the contract is made,
  • the provider must “bring home” your understanding of the waiver, and
  • the waiver must be clearly stated.

The provider must take steps to bring the waiver to your attention

For example, a ski resort cannot rely on a waiver posted on a sign at the top of the ski hill. You won’t even see the waiver until after you purchase your lift ticket.

However, if the waiver is on the ticket and brought to your attention when you buy your ticket, the ski resort may be able to rely on it.

The provider must “bring home” your understanding of the waiver

The service provider must draw the waiver to your attention, or explain its legal effect to you. This is often called bringing it home. For example:

  • having you initial the waiver clause in a contract,
  • placing the waiver clause in large bold print, or
  • explaining the legal effect of the waiver to you.

The waiver must be clearly stated

A waiver that is clear and easy to read is more likely to be enforceable. A waiver is less likely to be valid if it:

  • uses a lot of legal terminology,
  • has long sentences, and
  • contains repetitive language.

When you sign an agreement, you are bound by it whether or not you have read it. With a waiver of liability, it doesn’t matter if you didn’t read it or didn’t know its contents. So long as you sign the waiver, you can be bound by it if the waiver is valid.

Ready to bungee jump? Here’s a few steps you should take before taking the plunge.

Take action

First, locate the waiver. Read it and understand it. Going into activities eyes-wide-open to the dangers is important.

You can try to get away with not initialling or signing a waiver. Remember, you don’t have to sign it. The provider may not let you participate if you don’t, but if they forget to make you sign a waiver, you don’t have to let them know that!

It might still be valid but it will be a lot harder for them to prove you knew about the waiver and agreed to the terms.

If something happens, the provider may ask you to sign something right away, or offer you something in the hopes that you won’t sue them or ask for something more.

Don’t sign anything, say it was your fault, or that you agree it was not their fault. Take any documents they give you and tell them you’ll read them and get back to them.

You can try to resolve the situation amicably, especially if the amount you’re arguing over is relatively small. (Let's say: they need to replace your watch that broke.)

But when there are more serious injuries, lawyers often get involved. Good thing there are options for cheap legal advice (or even free; some lawyers will just take a percentage of what you win).

Who can help

If you want to contest a waiver or release, consider getting legal advice. Or, with the Civil Resolution Tribunal, taking a self-help approach.

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UBC Law School's Student Advice Program
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Civil Resolution Tribunal
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  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed in April 2020
  • Time to read: 4 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Dean Davison, Davison Law Group

Dean Davison, Davison Law Group

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This information from People’s Law School explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. See our disclaimer.

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On Dial-A-Law

Dial-A-Law has more information on Contracts in the section on Consumer.