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Are Liability Waivers Really Legally Binding?


We’ve all signed them. On the morning of a race or tour, after waiting nervously in the long line at packet pick-up, there’s a stack of papers with plenty of text and a few blank spots. Your name, your initials, and a date; after that, those liability waivers are out of mind as attentions turn to the start line. 

Those liability waivers do mean something, but many folks have asked; just how meaningful is a liability waiver? Like user agreements online, we often fail to even scan what those waivers cover. 

To be fair, two factors make those releases a bit of a snooze. First, they’re often the sort of boilerplate legalese that makes normal people’s eyes glaze over. They typically list some of the dangers of racing or riding, the risks associated with the event, and make it very clear that the event organizer and its sponsors are not responsible for injuries, accidents, or death. Shocking at first, but after a few races, riders don’t blink before signing. Second, these waivers are so similar that reading one is often enough to feel as though you’ve read them all. 

There’s a strong precedent, however, that these waivers do cover event organizers. Cases like one in Pennsylvania strongly support a bike tour organizer after a rider crashed during the event. They found the waiver included the risk of crashing and that the organizer had gone to the appropriate lengths to inspect the route to make it safe. They ruled with the tour company, which didn’t have to pay for any damages. 

That does mean you’re riding without any rights. In the event of reckless, harmful, or negligent behavior for the race or race organizers, you can still take legal action. Improperly marking course hazards, posting poor traffic protection, or any action that puts riders at risk could still make a strong legal case. The best example is a car entering a criterium course; the race organization is responsible for closing the circuit to traffic and failing to do so put riders at risk. 

For both organizers and racers, the liability waiver is crucial. Racers should always read what they’re signing, and ask questions if necessary. Race organizers need to ensure that their event insurance covers their legal entity, their sponsors, and their volunteers to protect them from litigation. 

If you’re a racer or a race director, we can help you make sure your liability waiver is binding. Reach out if you have any questions on just how enforceable these waivers are in your state.

Cody Sovis