Man to appeal suit against Disney over 2006 injury
Dave Peterson says exculpatory clauses in Florida put consumers at risk
Published: July 16, 2014
“When I went to law school, we learned just the opposite – there is no such thing as waiving negligence,” he says. But business interests have managed to “start this motion to contract anything they want, as long as adults are signing their rights away.”
Debra Henley, executive director of the Florida Justice Association, an organization of trial lawyers that works to keep the legal system open, says that liability waivers are so common that a lot of people simply don’t understand what they are agreeing to when they pick up a pen and sign one. Liability waivers protect corporations and event sponsors from inherent risk – that is, risk that comes with the territory of engaging in an activity. And the forms are ubiquitous – if you want to take part in virtually any activity, you’re required to sign one. Not long ago, a consortium of business organizations attempted to lobby the legislature to make it legal for parents to sign exculpatory clauses waiving negligence on behalf of children – fortunately, she says, the Legislature did not go along with it. “Imagine if your child is invited to a birthday party at a gym,” Henley says. “If you want to attend, you have to sign the waiver. If you don’t sign, you don’t go. You don’t want to say no, everybody else is going, so you sign it.”
She says that it’s within the Legislature’s means to pass laws that limit or prohibit businesses from being able to completely waive responsibility for their own negligence – but she says there are a lot of big businesses in this state lobbying for the right to not be held accountable for their own errors, so there isn’t a lot of momentum to make change. Which leaves the issue up to the courts.
And Peterson is hoping that the Florida Appellate Court will see what he sees – an overly broad waiver that was signed a day after his son’s injury occurred, during an activity that wasn’t even part of the activity he agreed to waive liability for. Peterson also says it’s not just about his son – he thinks everyone should be concerned about this issue. Hence his threat to crawl around Orlando with a cross.
“Inherent risk is fine, I have no problem with people signing for that,” he says. “If I go to play a sport or ride a horse or whatever, I’m not going to be able to hold anybody responsible for something that happens because I’m doing that. But when you get to the point of waiving negligence, I don’t think most people know the difference. The difference is, if you sign that waiver, and Disney does something stupid and rips off your arm, should you be able to sign away your right to sue Disney for ripping off your arm?”
Below is a copy of the waiver Owen Peterson signed. Do you think this kind of waiver is fair to consumers? Comment below and tell us what you think.
> Email Erin Sullivan