Has your employer asked you to sign a waiver abdicating them of liability should you contract COVID-19 on the job? If so, perhaps you felt pressured to sign despite finding the arrangement utterly unfair. Fortunately, if you actually were to fall ill, the law would be on your side.
In California, nearly all employers—including those with only one employee—are required to have workers’ compensation insurance. This coverage reimburses injured and ill workers for applicable medical expenses and a portion of their lost wages.
In certain scenarios, claimants are also entitled to disability payments, life pension payments, and/or vocational retraining costs. And if an individual dies from a work-related injury or occupational illness, his or her surviving dependents may be able to recover death benefits.
Workers’ comp coverage automatically applies to employees who get injured or ill while acting within the scope of their employment. Regarding COVID-19, California presumes any employee who contracts the virus did so on the job and is therefore entitled to the aforementioned benefits. A liability waiver, regardless of its terms, cannot inhibit any such workers from pursuing compensation under their employer’s coverage.
What Is a Liability Waiver?
Liability waivers don’t just apply to COVID-19. These legal documents have been used for generations to release an individual or entity from liability should a certain scenario (or scenarios) occur. Chances are you’ve signed such a document at some point. Other common names for liability waivers include:
- Release of liability;
- Pre-injury release;
- Legal release;
- Participation waiver;
- Hold harmless agreement;
- Exculpatory agreement;
- Assumption of risk;
- Waiver of rights; and
- Indemnity agreement.
Companies generally require individuals to sign this kind of document before participating in a potentially hazardous activity. For example, you might be expected to sign a waiver at the:
- Trampoline park;
- Country club swimming pool; or
- Ski mountain.
In recent months, even businesses that don’t host dangerous activities have started asking customers to sign a form promising not to sue should they contract COVID-19 on the premises. These documents generally aim to protect organizations in states that don’t grant them immunity or limited liability from coronavirus-related lawsuits. Currently, only a handful of states have enacted such limits through executive or legislative orders.
What Makes a Liability Waiver Valid?
In order for a liability waiver to be valid, its terms:
- Must be clear enough that the person signing it understands which rights he or she is actually waiving;
- Must not be open to interpretation;
- Cannot present the opportunity to be bypassed or worked around; and
- Must be specific enough to protect the entity in question should the stated scenario occur.
If the terms of the document meet all of the above, it should be both legally binding and enforceable—unless of course the entity violates their duty of care to the signee.
When Can I Sue Despite Having Signed a Liability Waiver?
Even the strongest liability waivers do not bar parties from taking legal action in certain situations. For example, these documents do not typically excuse reckless, gross, wanton, or egregious negligence.
In other words, the companies that require their employees and/or customers to sign a liability waiver must still take reasonable measures to protect everyone’s safety. If they fail to do so and someone gets hurt as a result, the company could be financially responsible for the resulting damages.
If a supervisor instructs an employee to come in to work despite knowing he or she has been experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, for example, those who contract the virus after visiting the store might have grounds for a claim.
How Can I Build a Strong Claim Against a Company After Waiving Them of Liability?
If you end up getting hurt or falling ill after signing a liability waiver, it’s wise to call a personal injury lawyer. After evaluating the language of the contract and the facts of the case, an experienced attorney will let you know how best to proceed.
If it turns out you have grounds for a claim, your legal team will attempt to gather evidence of the company’s negligence. The evidence that will contribute the most to your case will depend on the circumstances but will likely include some combination of the following:
- The incident report;
- The police report;
- The organization’s hiring practices, training requirements, and standard operating procedures;
- Photographs of the condition or conditions that contributed to your injuries or illness;
- Statements from other employees, customers, and eyewitnesses; and
- Surveillance recordings.
What If the Negligent Party Refuses to Accept Liability?
Unfortunately, disputes are fairly common in personal injury claims involving liability waivers. Regardless of the strength of the evidence you present, the opposing party may simply refuse to offer a fair settlement because you signed a waiver prior to conducting business with them.
Should this happen, filing a formal lawsuit may be the only way to pursue the compensation you deserve. A resourceful personal injury attorney can help you prepare your case for court. It’s important to act fast, however, because you’ll have a limited amount of time to proceed to trial.
In California, the standard statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits is two years. If you intend to take action against a government entity, though, you may have as little as six months to commence the proceedings by filing an administrative claim with the appropriate agency.
Call (562) 206-1939 to Discuss Your Case with a Long Beach Personal Injury Attorney
Your Injuries Are Personal to Me
If you became injured or ill after signing a liability waiver, don’t just assume you have no legal recourse. Instead, turn to the Law Office of Michael D. Waks to determine the most strategic way to proceed.
Attorney Michael D. Waks has extensive experience helping injured, ill, and disabled parties navigate the legal system. He will conduct a thorough investigation into your case, ensure your claim accounts for all potentially recoverable damages, and help you avoid making critical mistakes along the way. Call (562) 206-1939 or fill out our Contact Form to schedule a free consultation with a personal injury lawyer in Long Beach.