Assumption of the risk is a term you may have heard while participating in an activity that is either strenuous or involves an amount of danger. A company may ask you to sign a waiver of liability before you or a friend bungee jumps or rides across a zip line. Waivers of liability can also be found at gyms or participant sporting events. When death or injury happens to a participant in an athletic activity, the tragedy is amplified by the fact the injured person was attempting to enhance, not hinder, health. If injury or death occurs, questions may arise as to whether or not a signed waiver of liability can act as a complete shield to accountability in the civil justice system.
Recently, the United States District Court of Massachusetts rendered a Memorandum and Order in Angelo v. USA Triathlon, which supported a portion and denied a portion of the organization’s Motion for Summary Judgment. The deceased person was a member of a Triathlon association and signed an agreement to waive and release the liability of the organization. During the triathlon, the man died during or shortly after the swimming event. The wife filed suit on behalf of his estate and alleged that the organization wrongfully caused his death, pain and suffering prior to his death, and infliction of emotional distress as a result of the company’s gross negligence. The triathlon company moved for partial summary judgment, based on the signed waiver of indemnity agreements.
The district court looked to Massachusetts law regarding contracts of indemnity. In the memorandum, the court discussed how state case law allows indemnity contracts to shield a company for ordinary negligence, but not gross negligence. The court found that the company could be shielded from liability related to any claims of pain and suffering that was the result of ordinary negligence, but not pain and suffering that was the result of gross negligence. While the indemnity contract was binding as to the estate’s assets, the court ruled that signed waivers of liability were not binding for family members who are statutory beneficiaries of the estate.
The memorandum also discussed how the waiver of indemnity did not apply to the wife’s claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. The waiver only bound the deceased athlete and thus was not a bar to the wife’s claims as his wife and not as the representative of his estate. The district court ultimately ruled partially in favor of the triathlon company, which could be shielded from liability for ordinary negligence, but found partially in favor of the deceased’s estate and widow, allowing her to pursue recovery available under Massachusetts law.
The dedicated attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan understand the challenges of physically and financially recovering from an injury or death that resulted from another’s negligence. As seen in the case above, recovery may be possible, even when it seems to be precluded, and our Massachusetts personal injury lawyers have the litigation experience you need to pursue and maximize the damages you deserve. For a free, confidential consultation, contact our office at 508-822-6600.
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New Massachusetts Case Law Regarding MedPay Coverage on Auto Policy, Massachusetts Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, December 18, 2013