Recreational Waivers: to Sign or Not to Sign?

Thrill seekers of all levels are accustomed to signing a Waiver of Liability (“Waiver”) before embarking on a recreational activity. But just how binding is the piece of paper that adventure enthusiasts so often absent-mindedly sign?

In BC Supreme Court case Loychuk v. Cougar Mountain Adventures, plaintiffs Deanna Loychuk and Danielle Westgeest sign up for a zipline tour in Whistler, BC. All participants are required to sign a one-page Waiver before they are able to take part in the zipline tour. Ms. Loychuk and Ms. Westgeest sign.

At the end of the tour, both ladies are injured when one collides with the other on the zipline. The accident is due to employee error – a miscommunication between guides who send Ms. Westgeest down the line before Ms. Loychuck clears on the other side.

The plaintiffs sue Cougar Mountain Adventures, believing that their injuries are caused by the negligence of the operator’s employees.

But Cougar Mountain says they are not responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries, despite the obvious error of its employees. Why? Because they say the signed Waivers are a complete defence to any liability.

The judge agrees with Cougar Mountain and awards costs against the plaintiffs.

We are so fortunate to live in a place where outdoor recreation and adventure abounds. We wish you safety in whatever it is that excites you, whether ziplining, skydiving, bungee jumping, white water rafting, parasailing, horseback riding, and more. Whatever the activity, we suggest that you follow these steps before signing a Waiver:

  • Read carefully: if there is anything that you don’t understand, ask for clarification.
  • Take your time: don’t let the staff rush you into signing anything.
  • Think twice: do you truly understand the dangers involved in the activity you’re about to participate in?
  • Trust your instincts: if the risks seem too high, consider a safer alternative.

If you think the risks are worth taking, go for it! Just don’t expect to sue for any potential damages once that Waiver of Liability is signed.

An exception to the rule: in B.C., a Waiver is not necessarily enforceable when a parent signs on behalf of their child. (More to come on this topic in an upcoming post…)

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Picture of Tony Vecchio, K.C.
Tony Vecchio, K.C.
Anthony (Tony) Vecchio, K.C., founded Slater Vecchio in January 1998. He has been counsel on some of the largest cases in British Columbia.