Appeals Court Finds Waiver Was Valid in Bicycle Race

Jan 13, 2005

A California appeals court has affirmed a summary judgment ruling for a defendant in a case involving a bicycle race participant’s injury and subsequent challenge of the liability release he signed.
Plaintiff Michael Carpenter unsuccessfully argued, among other things, that the type in the release was too small and that certain sections were capitalized to draw the reader away from more important language.
Carpenter was injured on March 3, 2002, while participating in the Los Angeles Marathon Bike Tour. During the race, one of defendants’ representatives misdirected Carpenter off the bicycle course to an improperly designated and dangerous street. The plaintiff hit a speed bump, which caused him to fall off his bicycle and injure his head.
Carpenter sued and the defendants in the case, Los Angeles Marathon, Inc. and American Honda Motor, Co., Inc. (Honda), moved for summery judgment. The trial court granted the motion and the plaintiff appealed.
In its review, the appeals court noted that on the entry form that Carpenter filled out, he checked a box above his signature that read, “I certify that I am at least 18 years of age and have read and understand all of the above.” Also on the entry form, above the signature line, in capital letters was the language: “THIS IS AN IMPORTANT LEGAL DOCUMENT READ CAREFULLY BEFORE SIGNING.”
The entry form provides: “In consideration of the foregoing, I, for myself, my heirs, my executors, my administrators, and my trustees, waive and release any and all rights and claims for any injuries and damages, including, but not limited to demands or actions for negligence, premises liability, emotional injury, intentional conduct, tort claims, and any other actions or demands of whatsoever nature, I have or may have against (1) Los Angeles Marathon, Inc., it employees, principals, directors, shareholders, agents, and representatives, (2) the City of Los Angeles, its departments, employees, officials, agents, and representatives, (3) USA Track and Field, and (4) all sponsors of any Los Angeles Marathon events in which I may participate, including the Los Angeles Marathon, the Los Angeles 5K Run/Walk and the Acura LA Bike Tour, and each of these events whether my participation is as a contestant or spectator of any of these events. I acknowledge that I am aware of the inherent risks involved in these events and I voluntarily assume these risks.”
The entry form also states: “If I am participating in the Acura LA Bike Tour, I understand that the Bike Tour is a noncompetitive event and that no racing is allowed. I further understand that the Acura LA Bike Tour involves bicycle riding as part of a larger group on public streets where hazards exist. I assume all risk of injury or death. I ALSO UNDERSTAND THAT BICYCLE HELMETS CAN PREVENT SERIOUS INJURY AND I AGREE TO WEAR A HELMET AT ALL TIMES DURING MY PARTICIPATION IN THE ACURA LA BIKE TOUR.”
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that “the exculpatory language is not sufficiently distinguished from other sections of the entry form; it is printed in six-point type; the only language in the document that is capitalized does not relate to the release but to wearing a helmet, which was designed to misdirect the reader away from the release language; and defendants’ representatives orally advised participants that they were signing a document agreeing to wear a helmet.”
The appeals court disagreed, writing that “the release … is not buried in a lengthy document or so encumbered by other provisions so that it is difficult to find. The release is placed on the front side of the only page of the document. It also takes up a major portion of the document. The only other significant writing on the document refers to wearing a helmet. However, contrary to plaintiff’s contentions otherwise, the existence of the helmet requirement language does not mislead the reader into believing, he or she is only agreeing to wear one. The one-page document clearly shows that it was meant to be a release of liability.
“Furthermore, we disagree with plaintiff that the six-point type is sufficient to invalidate the release.
“It is of no legal consequence that plaintiff did not actually read the release. Plaintiff claims that he did not read the document because: there was a long line; he was given only seconds to sign the document; and defendants’ agent allegedly advised participants that they had to wear helmets and that was the purpose of the form. But the release contradicts the claim that this was only an agreement to wear a helmet. Further, plaintiff signed the release indicating that he had read the entire one-page document. His signature is within inches of the release. Moreover, he offered no explanation as to why he could not simply remove himself from the line and read the document before placing his signature on the line. A failure to read a release does not invalidate it. (Randas v. YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles (1993) 17 Cal.App.4th 158, 163; Hulsey v. Elsinore Parachute Center (1985) 168 Cal. App. 3d 333, 339, 214 Cal. Rptr. 194.)”
Thus, it found that the release was enforceable because it “was clear, legible, and unambiguous.”
Carpenter v. American Honda Motor Co. Inc. et al.; Cal.App.2d; B171291; 11/16/04
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Brian S. Nelson of Stoll, Nussbaum & Polakov, Robert J. Stoll, Jr; Douglas G. Benedon and Gerald M. Serlin of Benedon & Serlin. (for defendants) Marvin Gelfand and Steven Glaser of Gelfand Rappaport & Glaser.


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