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:
- 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.