Pre-Accident Waivers of Liability

Are written waivers of liability worth the paper they are written on?  The answer, of course, is that it depends.  In California, a waiver that a passenger signs before stepping into an aircraft is enforceable, as long as it meets certain rules.  For example:Waiver

  • The waiver language must be clear and conspicuous to the person signing away his rights---not buried in fine print.
  • A passenger cannot waive liability for injuries resulting from another's recklessness. 
  • A waiver will not release an employer from liability to an employee for risks that are inherent in the employee's job.
  • A passenger cannot waive liability for injuries resulting from an aircraft's defective design or manufacture.  

Despite the rules, a waiver can be written in such a way that it will, in most situations, prevent a passenger from obtaining compensation for injuries received in an aviation accident caused by another's negligence.  In fact, a well-written release can prevent not just the passenger who signed it from suing, but in the event of the passenger's death, his heirs as well.   But the release must be properly drafted. The language used is critical.  Many releases look "official" but simply do not pass muster.

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Comments (2) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
anon - March 1, 2011 9:44 AM

How about a good waiver example then?

Mike Danko - March 1, 2011 4:00 PM

I know this sounds like a cop out, but I don't provide legal advice on this blog. It's general information only. See this disclaimer. So I can't give you a release on which you can rely without getting into your particular details.

That said, I can illustrate how easy it is to muck one up. AOPA has a draft form here. As far as I'm concerned, it is vulnerable in California to attack by the heirs of the passenger who signed it. In other words, it might not prevent a widow or child from suing in a Calfornia court.

Even AOPA's legal department recognizes that it's hard to get it right, as the AOPA site explains:

"AOPA cautions you that the effectiveness of this release varies widely in different jurisdictions and under different circumstances. It is harmless, and it may prove helpful. You should consult your own attorney directly regarding the specific requirements for validity in your state and to make it clear and unambiguous with respect to your use."

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