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Are liability waivers a thing of the past?

For active Ontarians, liability waivers are a fact of life. If you’re a member of a fitness centre or recreational sports leagues, or enjoy participating in outdoor activities or visiting amusement parks, you’ve probably filled out a large number of waivers that aim to reduce companies’ risk of being held liable for your injuries.

But how much power do liability waivers really hold? Do they fully exempt businesses from liability? Can a personal injury lawyer help you, even if you’ve signed one?

In early 2017, Justice J.R. McCarthy of the Ontario Superior Court came to a decision that could change the way waivers are treated in the province.

Woodhouse v. Snow Valley Resorts

Elizabeth Woodhouse visited a ski facility run by Snow Valley Resorts in December 2008. She bought a beginner ski package, which included a lift ticket, rental equipment, and a lesson. The lift ticket included a liability release, and she also signed a “Rental Agreement & Release of Liability” containing a section titled “Waiver of Claims.”

Woodhouse was injured during her stay, hired a personal injury lawyer, and sued Snow Valley for injuries and loses.

During the trial Snow Valley Resorts acknowledged that it did not fully explained the waiver to Ms. Woodhouse, who in turn admitted that she reviewed its wording on the company’s website prior to her trip.

Because Woodhouse had signed both the lift ticket release and the Rental Agreement & Release of Liability, Snow Valley Resorts asked Justice McCarthy to dismiss the case. McCarthy disagreed, and ordered that the case proceed to trial. The Justice argued in his decision that Ms. Woodhouse was a consumer entitled to protection under the Consumer Protection Act (CPA).

Section 9(1) of the CPA dictates that “a supplier of services is deemed to warrant that the services supplied under a consumer agreement are of a reasonably acceptable quality,” and section 9(3) states that parts of consumer agreements that attempt to negate this implied warranty are void.

In other words, “a supplier of services cannot contract out its duty to provide services of a reasonably acceptable quality,” explained Kris Bonn in an excellent blog post for the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association. “That is, those parts of a waiver that limit or negate a supplier’s duty to provide safe service – which would be included in the terms “of reasonably acceptable quality” – will have no force or effect.”

The ruling is good news for injury victims and their personal injury lawyer. Does the fact that Justice McCarthy sent the case to trial mean liability waivers cannot be enforced in Ontario? Not quite. But it does guarantee that individuals who suffer an injury as a result of a supplier’s negligence will be able to pursue compensation for their injuries, regardless of having signed a waiver.

If you or a member of your family has been injured, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact a personal injury lawyer at Will Davidson LLP today to find out how we can help.

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