Please Release Me

Hot Coffee

In our Spring 2006 newsletter, we talked about the details and true facts of the McDonald's hot coffee case. It is amazing to us how many clients continue to ask about it. The emotion that is evoked by the misunderstanding of the case still exists today. Everyone needs to see the film "HOT COFFEE." The producer of the film, Susan Saladoff, is a personal injury attorney who decided to take action and get the truth out about the McDonald's case. This film finally reports what really happened 19 years ago to Stella Liebeck of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and documents how that case prompted a trend that has impacted our civil justice system in the United States. The film shows people who have been significantly impacted by changes in our justice system due to the ripple effects of this case.

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Please Release Me . . .
By Joyce Novotny-Prettiman, Esq.

You have seen them. We have all signed them. What does a Release document really mean? The answer is: It depends!

Generally speaking, the courts in Pennsylvania do not favor release agreements that are signed before an incident occurs. The reason is because the details about what happens when an injury occurs are the most important issues when a claim is made.

Let's take the example of a rafting trip. Obviously, white water rafting is an adventure — and potentially a dangerous adventure! There is rushing water and a lot of rocks involved. You might be thrown from a raft or trapped under rushing water and, unfortunately, this adventure may end up with someone in the hospital, if not worse. The release that you signed will make one thing perfectly clear: you knew the list of terrible things that could happen before you decided to go ahead with your rafting trip. If something would happen during your trip that causes you an injury, many people automatically think that there is nothing they can do. That may not be the case depending upon the details of what actually causes the injury.

Many activities by definition are dangerous, and to a certain extent, you assume the risk of that activity. White water rafting, snow skiing, horseback riding or even watching a baseball or hockey game can expose you to potential injury. You may not have any legal recourse if you are injured while participating in these events. However, the release may not be the document that stands in the way of a claim the law or the circumstances of the injury are more important than the release.

For example, what if you are injured because a ski lift operator improperly helps you onto a chairlift? What if you are injured in the shuttle van on your way to the white-water rafting loading zone? These are some instances where a release may not prevent you from making a claim.

The moral of the story is this: a release signed BEFORE an incident is not always an automatic end to a claim. Obviously, the situation is different when you sign a release AFTER you are injured in order to conclude a claim. You should consult an attorney if you sustain a serious injury, even if you did sign a release.

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