How Does a Liability Waiver Affect My Personal Injury Claim?
A common barrier to personal injury claims in Iowa is the liability waiver. Everyone has come across one of these waivers at one time or another. It is basically a document that purports to absolve one party–usually the one that drafted the waiver–of any legal responsibility in the event the other party is injured. Many people sign such waivers without first reading them fully or taking time to understand its terms. This can prove costly later when the person tries to pursue a personal injury lawsuit.
Court Holds Waiver Bars Lawsuit Arising from Broken Office Chair
Consider this recent decision by the Iowa Court of Appeals, Smith v. All Stor Fort Knox, LLC. This was a premises liability case–i.e., a personal injury claim against an allegedly negligent property owner. The defendant in this lawsuit owns and operates a storage unit facility in Cedar Rapids. The plaintiff rented a unit from the defendant over a period of several years.
The rental contract signed by the plaintiff included a liability waiver. Specifically, the waiver stated the plaintiff, as the tenant, “acknowledges and agrees that [the defendant] shall have no liability … for any personal injury or other property loss arising from or related to the use of the Unit or the Facility,” regardless of the cause. In other words, the plaintiff agreed not to sue the defendant for injuries he sustained even if it was the result of the defendant’s negligence.
This waiver came into play after a 2014 incident in the storage facility’s business office. The plaintiff was sitting in a chair in the office. The chair broke and “rolled out from under him,” causing the plaintiff to fall to the ground and sustain physical injuries. He subsequently filed his premises liability claim against the defendant in Iowa state court.
The trial court, however, granted summary judgment to the defendant, holding the waiver absolved it of any liability as matter of law. The Court of Appeals upheld the trial judge’s ruling in a judgment issued on August 15 of this year. As the appeals court explained, this was a straightforward application of contract law–the waiver “clearly and unambiguously releases [the defendant] from liability for personal injury or property damage occurring in the Facility—defined by contract as a specific street address, which included the office.”
The plaintiff raised two points in response: First, he never read the waiver before signing the rental contract; and second, the waiver itself was “unconscionable” and therefore unenforceable. The Court of Appeals rejected both arguments. It is a longstanding principle of Iowa law that when “a party has the chance to read the terms of a contract and fails to do so, he cannot claim ignorance to relieve himself from its obligations. As for “unconscionability,” the appeals court said the plaintiff never properly raised this argument before the trial court, so he could not make it for the first time on appeal.
Need Help Understanding Your Legal Rights Following an Accident?
There’s a simple lesson here: Never sign an agreement containing a liability waiver without reading it first. And if you are injured due to someone else’s negligence and have concerns about how such a waiver may affect your legal rights, contact the qualified Southeast Iowa personal injury attorneys at the Noyes Law Office, P.C., right away.