What Is a Release of All Claims?


For Valentine’s Day, I received a gift card for a spa.  When I began to book an appointment online for the massage, I was asked to electronically sign a Release of All Claims.  Among other things, the Release of All Claims for a massage at this spa stated that if death resulted from the massage, then the spa was not responsible.  There were also other excessive provisions. I declined to sign the Release of All Claims, and the spa was kind enough to refund the purchased gift card, but the outrageousness of their request is not particularly isolated.  Every day, businesses ask their prospective customers to sign releases before providing services or allowing participation in activities.  As such, we thought it would be good to review what exactly is a release of all claims.

A release of all claims is a legal document that is also sometimes referred to as a waiver.   It can be signed before an accident happens and it can also be signed after an accident, usually in the context of a settlement.   For example, before getting a massage, the spa asked customers to sign a release stating they release or give up all their rights if anything should go wrong.  Other common contexts are sporting activities such as baseball leagues, bungee jumping, bounce houses and even many medical procedures.  The other type of release of all claims is usually in the context of a settlement following an accident.  The at-fault party or their insurance company will ask the injury victim to sign a release of all claims stating, in exchange for payment of the settlement, that all claims arising from the accident are released and the litigation is completely over with no further threat of other potential claims or lawsuits.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with a company or individual asking for a release of claims especially for risks that are just part of the process and really cannot be eliminated.  Before playing in a baseball league, the league wants to make sure you understand, and the league is not responsible for, inherent risks of the game like a collision at home plate that could result in a broken bone or a wild pitch that causes a concussion.  Before a massage, it would be understandable for a spa to ask you to release any claim that the massage aggravated a pre-existing back condition, if you have one.   The problem with too many releases is that they are simply unreasonable in their scope.  It is fair to say that no one expects to die from a massage.  Likewise, a medical patient who goes in for surgery to repair a tendon on their left hand does not expect to come out of surgery with a below the knee amputation.  Releases that have been written to absolve all forms of negligence and reckless conduct are simply overreaching and are not fair and should not be signed.   One also must wonder about whether a company will be diligent and careful to protect you from harm if they know they are not responsible for anything that happens.

So what should you do when presented with a release of all claims?   First and foremost, read it and understand it, especially if it is following an accident.   If the terms seem unfair and overreaching, do not sign it.  Some businesses will let you negotiate the terms and you should try to do so.  For instance, in the massage example, ask them to remove the provision that absolves them of responsibility if death results from the massage.  Other businesses simply present the release as “take it or leave it” and refuse to negotiate for more reasonable terms.   We would suggest you “leave it” especially if the service is not truly necessary and then take some time to find a different provider.

Under most circumstances, a release of all claims is legally binding and will prevent you from seeking financial compensation if something should go wrong.  The fact that you did not read it or did not understand it will not matter.   Of course, there are some exceptions.  If the release was signed under duress or as a result of fraud or undue influence, then it may not be valid.  In addition, releases signed by minors, or on behalf of minors, are often not fully valid and should be reviewed by an experienced lawyer in the event of an accident, and we are happy to do so during a free, initial consultation.

Likewise, every day at the Law Offices of John Day, our clients sign releases as part of their settlement, but our award-winning lawyers carefully review them to make sure they are fair and reasonable.   If you have been involved in an accident, please do not sign any release or waiver without seeking legal review of the document.  Instead, call us and let us help in a free consultation.  We hope you do not need us, but we are here if you do.

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