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Acknowledgment

Definition - What does Acknowledgment mean?

An acknowledgement, also referred to as a waiver/release agreement, can be signed by individuals engaged in high risk activities. It is used as a declaration by the individual that they understand the risks and hazards of a particular activity, and they willingly accept these risks.

The acknowledgement document, if properly signed and executed, can release a person or entity of responsibility if the participant is injured. The acknowledgement is considered a contract which can excuse certain groups from simple negligence. The argument is that the acknowledgement has given the participant sufficient warning of inherent risks of the activity thereby triggering the common-law assumption of risk (AOR) defense under tort law.

A waiver of release or acknowledgement requirements

Acknowledgements must be well-drafted to be properly interpreted by the courts. Although the requirements may vary by activity or organization, generally, the document must be properly drafted according to the laws of the state, cannot violate public or state policy, and must clearly outline the types of risks that are likely to occur participating in a particular activity.

Some entities will also include the language "known and unknown risks" to cover a broad range of unanticipated risks, including permanent injury or death. Assumption of risks can also be strengthened by the entity with other types of actions such as warnings, signs, brochures, verbal instructions, and safety briefings.

If a participant has signed a waiver of release and then is injured participating in the dangerous activity, they may not be able to file an injury claim. In some cases, if a claim is filed and the waiver release is upheld in court, the judge will issue a summary judgment for the defendant and dismiss the claim. In other cases, even if the case is not dismissed, the defendant may use the acknowledgement to strengthen their case, arguing that the plaintiff acknowledged the risk and had sufficient knowledge they could be injured. These arguments may be sufficient, in some cases, to allow the insurance adjuster to reduce the damages.

When is an acknowledgement not upheld?

Although many states will uphold a waiver release or acknowledgement of risks, there are exceptions. For example, if the release is signed by a minor the court is likely to decide the minor did not have the legal competency to enter into a binding contract. In this case, the minor does not have the right to waive their right to sue for personal injury.

What should the waiver/release statement avoid?

A comprehensive acknowledgement or waiver release allows for every possible injury and subsequent court claim. To avoid losing a court case the defendant should ensure that their waiver avoids common pitfalls. Specifically, the waiver should not be unclear or ambiguous, it must be in a type which is large enough to be legible, and it must be signed individually and voluntarily. There should be one release for each participant, and the release should not be combined with other registration documents. Each release should warn of the dangers of all possible injuries, including the known and unknown. Finally, the release should be signed for each registration period and should not attempt to avoid responsibility for gross negligence.

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