Massachusetts Court Discusses Whether Waivers Bar Wrongful Death Claims

There are many recreational activities that present a risk of harm, and therefore, many companies that allow people to engage in such activities require participants to sign a waiver. While Massachusetts has routinely ruled that a waiver of the right to sue precludes an individual from pursuing claims for harm until recently, it was unclear whether a waiver also precludes the person’s heirs from pursuing claims, in the event the person dies. Recently, however, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts held that a waiver signed by a person who died while scuba diving was enforceable against the person’s beneficiaries. If you lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, you should speak with a trusted Massachusetts wrongful death attorney regarding your potential claims.

Facts of the Case

It is alleged that the plaintiff’s decedent drowned while using a dry suit and diving equipment manufactured by the defendant company, during a promotional diving event sponsored by the defendant company. Prior to the event, the decedent signed a release from liability and an equipment rental agreement, which also contained a release of the right to sue the defendant company for death or injuries resulting from the use of the equipment. The plaintiff subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the defendant company and a dive instructor working during the diving event, on behalf of the decedent’s estate.

Reportedly, the defendant company settled with the plaintiff, after which the defendant instructor filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the release agreements signed by the plaintiff’s decedent precluded the plaintiff’s claims. The court granted the motion, and the plaintiff appealed, arguing that the right of the decedent’s beneficiaries to pursue a wrongful death claim was an independent right that could not be waived.

Enforceability of a Waiver in a Wrongful Death Claim

On appeal, the court held that the rights of the beneficiaries of a wrongful death claim are not independent from any claim that could be brought by the decedent. Rather, the court ruled that a statutory beneficiary’s right to pursue a wrongful death claim is derivative of the deceased person’s rights. Upon review, the court found that the waivers signed by the decedent were valid. Further, the court found that the waivers prohibited the decedent from pursuing any claims against the defendant instructor, who acted as an agent of the defendant company during the dive. As such, the court found that the waivers signed by the decedent acted to bar the plaintiff’s wrongful death claims and affirmed the trial court ruling.

Meet with an Experienced Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorney

If you or a loved one suffered harm because of another party’s carelessness, it is in your best interest to meet with an experienced Massachusetts personal injury attorney to assess what compensation you may be able to pursue. The dedicated personal injury attorneys of the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the skills and experience needed to present you with a strong chance of obtaining a favorable result under the facts of your case. We can be reached through our online form or by calling 508-822-6600 to set up a confidential and free meeting.