(INHERENTLY) RISKY BUSINESS
Whether you are throwing axes, skiing, snowboarding or attending a party where 7 year olds are permitted, and actually encouraged to play with bricks (I wish I were kidding, but this is a real thing), you may have been required to sign a release. But do these releases completely shield businesses from liability under all circumstances? Are you really signing away your right to bring a lawsuit if you get hurt on their watch? Not necessarily.
Some recreational activities carry with them inherent risks, and participation in those activities involves an assumption of those risks. For example, if I choose to go snowboarding, I recognize and understand that, through nobody’s fault but my own, I could fall down and fracture a bone, which is why you won’t likely see me on the slopes. For this reason, most businesses involving these types of recreational activities, such as ski resorts and trampoline parks, will require patrons to sign a release prior to utilizing the associated equipment and/or facilities. Most times, these documents include a release of all claims, including those stemming from a business owner’s negligence. In other words, the business owner is essentially saying “if you want to bounce here, great! But if you get hurt because we fail to maintain our trampolines, you’re on your own.”
The Connecticut Supreme Court has held that in some circumstances, releases absolving business owners of liability for their own negligence are against public policy and, as such, will not be upheld. The seminal case for this proposition is Hanks v. Powder Ridge Rest. Corp. Mr. Hanks was injured when his foot became caught between the snow tube he was riding and the man-made bank in the snowtubing run. He later filed a lawsuit based on what he claimed was negligence on the part of Powder Ridge. The only problem was, prior to the incident, Mr. Hanks was required to sign a document that expressly released Powder Ridge from future liability for negligence. The Court ultimately found that the release in Hanks was unenforceable as it was adverse to public policy.
The general idea behind the Court’s ruling is that, as a society, we want to be able to hold people accountable for their actions. As the Court expressed in in the Hanks decision, to find otherwise could result in business owners having little to no incentive to exercise care in maintaining recreational facilities.