Extreme Adventure Races: Liability, Waivers, and Law

January 26, 2015 - 5 minutes read
An extreme adventure race participant wads through the mud. Credit: dailyrecord.co.uk

An extreme adventure race participant wades through the mud. Credit: dailyrecord.co.uk

In recent years, extreme adventure races have been all the trend. What previously could only be found in select areas, extreme adventure races are popping up in all major cities and even overseas. Extreme adventure races—namely in the form of the Tough Mudder or the Spartan Race—combines a lengthy course and circus-like obstacles to test endurance and mental fortitude. But, before playing in the mud like a kid, they’ll need you to do one thing: sign a waiver.

With the inclination toward pushing the limits, these extreme adventure races pose a serious threat of injury and possibly death. Indeed, just recently, a participant died while attempting to complete an extreme adventure race. However, race hosts like Tough Mudder tout their so-called death waiver. To participate in a Tough Mudder, willing participants are forced to sign a death waiver (PDF), which includes, but is not limited to: death, injury, negligence, indemnity, and arbitration. In addition, Tough Mudder has gone so far as to force spectators to sign a spectator waiver (PDF), which includes: assumption of risk, burned by fire, and inadequate first aid to name a few.

Many legal questions arise in these waivers, which attempt to limit liability. In a law suit against Tough Mudder, their death waiver is currently being tested in court by the mother of the participant who died. With the outcome to remain uncertain, the court may address whether gross negligence was present on the part of the race host, and if it is enough to defeat a waiver built like a straitjacket. Normally, simple negligence can be defeated in waivers similar to that of the Tough Mudder’s death waiver; however, generally, gross negligence becomes a state-by-state question, requiring in-depth review of substantive state law and cases.

As for forcing spectators to sign a waiver, this is a new approach. Generally, spectator waivers exist on ticket-stubs or on a sign at a stadium. These sort of spectator waivers have the intent of informing the person of the assumed risk—like a flying baseball—and absolving the host of liability. But, to actively have spectators sign a waiver, like that of the Tough Mudder, which is just as long as the participant waiver, automatically becomes suspicious. Extreme adventure race hosts who attempt to have spectators sign a waiver may be trying to not only warn of the assumed risk, but may also be trying to circumvent their duty to maintain a safe event environment. This is even more advanced than the law suit testing the death waiver; however, given that there are no pending law suits on the issue, it is unlikely to have an answer in the near future.

In summary, many of the extreme adventure races are enticing and have drawn flocks of people of varying degrees of athleticism. In a race poised to test your endurance and mental fortitude, expect an extreme challenge, which may be accompanied by injury and possibly death. In the case of injury or wrongful death, your legal choices may be restrained due to the waiver. Extreme adventure race hosts have employed the use of waivers to both participants and spectators alike, absolving themselves of liability. Additionally, the complexity of these waivers may further restrict an injured victim’s legal choices, like forcing them into arbitration and contracting away their right to recovery.

Getting Help:
To best assess a personal injury or wrongful death case that arises out of an extreme adventure race, contact a personal injury attorney to review your legal options. Additionally, given the demands of an extreme adventure race, a list of common personal injuries will help determine whether or not the attorney of choice is competent in the area.

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