Before participating in a higher-risk activity like skydiving, bungee jumping, or community sports, the company running the program may require a participant to sign a release form, which shows she or he understands the risks involved with the activity and agrees not to hold the owners of the company or the organizers of the event responsible for any injuries that may occur. These help immunize, or protect, a company from liability if an injury-causing accident occurs. However, exceptions do exist, so a release does not provide a full shield from accountability in the civil court system.
In Markovitz vs. Cassette (15-P-1274), the Massachusetts Appeals Court looked at whether or not a trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of a horse farm. A student rider fell off a horse during a group riding lesson. She had ridden that particular horse three times before the accident, and she had taken classes on a regular basis at this location for over a year. Prior to the start of her classes, she signed a release that shielded the horse farm, including its owners, instructors, employees, and agents, from any and all responsibility for any injury sustained while on the premises. The release also contained notice of the applicable Massachusetts General Law that shields an equine professional from liability if there is an injury or death caused by an inherent risk of an equine activity.
The appellate court cited case law that regularly supported defendants’ use of release agreements and courts’ use of summary judgment to resolve cases with signed releases. The injured student claimed in her appeal that her injury was one of the exceptions to the statutory exemption. This exception removes immunity from suit when there was a failure to make a reasonable and prudent effort to determine the ability of the participant to safely manage the particular horse, based on the representations of the rider. The Court of Appeals disagreed with the injured person’s argument that the exception created a new duty of the horse farm in addition to those provided by common law. The court did not feel that the injured person’s circumstances rose above the bar to liability established by statute. Based on this, the lower court’s ruling was affirmed.
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