Are Pre-Injury Releases and Waivers Enforceable in Alabama?
If you’ve ever been zip-lining or whitewater rafting, you have likely had to sign some sort or waiver or release. Did you stop to wonder whether it’s enforceable if you were to get hurt? Would you actually have signed away your rights to make a claims against someone? As with all good legal questions, the answer is it depends. These types of releases can be enforceable in Alabama, but as to whether any particular pre-injury release is enforceable, it will hinge on the language of the contract itself.
In Alabama, parties may execute an agreement that will release claims or damages not particularly contemplated even before the claims or damages have arisen, although the parties’ intent must be clearly expressed in the agreement. See Minnifield v. Ashcraft, 903 So. 2d 818, 827 (Ala. Civ. App. 2004). Specifically, parties may expressly release claims for injuries and damages. Dudley v. Bass Anglers Sportsman Soc., 777 So.2d 135, 137-38 (Ala.Civ.App. 2000). The assumption with general pre-injury releases is that the parties “intended to release all claims – contract claims as well as tort claims…. If the parties had wanted to limit the release, they could have expressly reserved and excepted certain claims, including tort claims.” Reg’l Health Servs., Inc. v. Hale Cty. Hosp. Bd., 565 So.2d 109, 114 (Ala. 1990).
Parties may sign releases for injuries that have not yet occurred. “Future damages may be released if such is the intent of the parties.” Jehle-Slauson Const. Co. v. Hood-Rich Architects and Consulting Engineers, 435 So.2d 716, 719-720 (Ala.1983) (quoting W.J. Perrymore & Co. v. Penn Mutual Fire Insurance Co., 324 F.2d 791, 793 (5th Cir.1963)). “It is a well settled statement of law that ‘in absence of fraud, a release supported by a valuable consideration, unambiguous in meaning, will be given effect according to the intention of the parties to be judged by the court from what appears within the four corners of the instrument itself, and parol evidence is not admissible to impeach or vary its terms.’” Jehle-Slauson Const. Co. v. Hood-Rich Architects and Consulting Engineers, 435 So.2d 716, 719-720 (Ala.1983) (quoting Conley v. Harry J. Welchel, Co., 410 So.2d 14 (Ala.1982)).
The Effect of Ambiguity on Releases
To be enforceable, pre-injury releases (like other contracts) must be free from ambiguity. Where there is ambiguity as to what causes of action are intended to be discharged by the anticipatory release, the release is unenforceable. Where no ambiguity exists, a court’s only function is to interpret the meaning and intentions of the parties as found within the four corners of the document. Pruitt v. Circuit City Stores, Inc., 678 So.2d 1166 (Ala.Civ.App.1996).
In determining if the language of the release is unambiguous, a court must give the words of the release their ordinary meaning and the release must be given effect “according to its terms and the intentions of the parties thereto.” Nix v. Henry C. Beck Co., 572 So. 2d 1214, 1216 (Ala. 1990) (quoting Alabama Code § 12-21-109). If the express provisions of a release are unambiguous, then, in accordance with contract principles generally, they will be taken as expressing the intent of the parties and will be binding and enforceable. See Id.
 “Although parties may execute an agreement that will release claims or damages not particularly contemplated, the parties’ intent to do so must be clearly expressed in the agreement.” The relevant portion of the release in Minnifield read as follows: “I agree not to sue Skin Worx in connection with any and all damages, claims, demands, rights and causes of action of whatever kind of [sic] nature, based upon injuries or property damage to or death of my-self or any other persons arising from my decision to have tattoo or piercing related work done at this time, whether or not caused by the negligence of Skin Worx personnel.”
 Alabama Court of Civil Appeals upheld validity of a release wherein signees “expressly assume all risks associated with the Tournament and I hereby release B.A.S.S., Inc., the host, sponsors and Tournament officials from all claims or injury and/or damage incurred in connection with this Tournament.” The release was found to be neither ambiguous nor otherwise unenforceable.