Pre-Injury Liability Waivers in Iowa

Likelihood of Enforcement: Moderate

In general, Iowa sees upholding waivers to be in the public interest. The state will enforce waivers as long as they are well-written, do not violate a statutory prohibition, and do not violate public policy. Bashford v. Slater, 96 N.W.2d 904, 909 (Iowa 1959).

 Iowa, like many other states, treats waivers primarily as a subspecies of contract, and thus their enforcement is governed largely by contract law. The court has said that while “public policy” eludes precise definition, its central principle is that courts should refrain from enforcing contracts which would be injurious to the public or contrary to public good. Walker v. American Family Mut. Ins. Co., 340 N.W.2d 599, 601 (Iowa 1983). The court will not interfere with parties’ right to contract in the name of public policy unless the preservation of general public welfare imperatively demands that they do so. Tschirgi v. Merchants Nat. Bank of Cedar Rapids, 113 N.W.2d 226, 231 (Iowa 1962). Iowa courts do not find that waivers, in general, run contrary to the general public welfare, and, in fact, claim that public is better served by their enforcement. Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Poling, 81 N.W.2d 462, 465 (Iowa 1957).

In order for a waiver to release one of the parties from negligence, Iowa courts do not require the use of the specific term “negligence,” but do require that the intention to waive claims of negligence be clear to the casual reader. Sweeney v. City of Bettendorf, 762 N.W.2d 873, 885 (Iowa 2009). Thus, a waiver which claimed to waive “any damage or injury, should any result from this service” was not held to be sufficiently clear to waive claims resulting from negligence. Baker v. Stewarts' Inc., 433 N.W.2d 706 (Iowa,1988).

The Iowa Supreme Court has held that waivers signed by parents on behalf of their children are void as against public policy. Galloway v. State, 790 N.W.2d 252, 258 (Iowa 2010). While the court strongly favors both freedom of contract and the ability for parents to make decisions for their children, they find that as a matter of public policy, protecting the safety of children takes precedence, thus precluding the enforcement of parental liability waivers. Id.

Last updated: 12/2018

This assessment of the enforceability of waivers has been prepared by non-lawyer law students and does not constitute legal advice.