Pre-Injury Liability Waivers in Virginia
Likelihood of Enforcement: Extremely Unlikely*
For over a century, Virginia courts have held that liability waivers for personal injury are void against public policy and will not be enforced, with one exception. Johnson's Adm'x v. Richmond & D.R. Co., 11 S.E. 829 (Va. 1890). While the case originally establishing that waivers are in violation of public policy is from 1890, the court has more recently reaffirmed this principle in Hiett v. Lake Barcroft Community Ass'n, Inc., 418 S.E.2d 894 (Va.,1992). The court in 1992 cites with approval language from the 1890 court:
“[T]o hold that it was competent for one party to put the other parties to the contract at the mercy of its own misconduct . . . can never be lawfully done where an enlightened system of jurisprudence prevails. Public policy forbids it, and contracts against public policy are void.” id. at 896
The 1992 court goes on to emphasize that while the intervening century of case law has upheld the right to release oneself from property damage on freedom of contract grounds, it has done nothing to erode the prohibition on personal injury waivers. Id.
The one exception to the prohibition waiver of personal injury liability is for “equine activities” which bars those who have knowingly signed a waiver or agreed to assume all enumerated risks, for themselves or on behalf of a child, from suing or recovering from an equine activity sponsor or professional. In order to be valid, such waivers must give notice to the participant of the intrinsic dangers of equine activities, and will remain in valid until expressly revoked in writing by the signer. VA Code Ann. § 3.2-6202
*Except in equine activities and for property damage
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.