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Releases are contracts or agreements that limit or end legal rights to sue. Many releases are short one page forms but they can be complicated documents that are several pages long. Releases are used to settle legal claims and lawsuits between the parties. For example, in typical auto accident cases, the innocent victim often files a claim for personal injury or property damage (the car).
If the driver that caused the accident, or his insurance company, agree to pay the victim for his injuries and damage to the car, they will insist that the victim sign a release. The release will provide an acknowledgment by the victim that he accepts the agreed amount as final settlement of his claim and that he has received that amount. The signed release allows the paying party to prove that the claim has been legally settled and that no further claims can be filed arising out of the same incident.
Releases are also used before an accident occurs. Many businesses require customers to sign releases before agreeing to provide products or services. The release can be a separate document or it can be contained on an admission ticket or product receipt. For example, people that rent horses, bicycles, or motorcycles routinely sign releases before they are allowed to ride the horse or use the vehicle. Also, customers at theme parks, golf courses, bowling alleys, and ski resorts typically sign releases before participating in the recreational activity. Customers that sign these releases agree that they will not be allowed to file a claim or lawsuit if they are injured as a result of the use of the product (horse, bicycle, or vehicle) or participating in the activity.
SOME RELEASES ARE INVALID AND CANNOT BE ENFORCED
According to the California Civil Code, releases that exempt someone from responsibility for his own fraud or willful injury to the person or property of another, or of a violation of law, are against the policy of the law and are invalid. The law invalidates private releases affecting the “public interest.” The courts have listed some factors that indicate when a public interest is involved. If some or all of these factors are present, the release will be considered invalid and not enforceable.
It is preferable not to sign any release that seems unfair to you, but if you already did, contact an experienced attorney immediately. Again, some releases are not valid. ¡NO SE DEJE! ®
JESS J. ARAUJO, ESQ.