Government Employers Can’t Make Their Employees Sign Away Their Rights

If you have ever joined a gym or gone bungee jumping, you probably signed an agreement giving up your right to sue if you get hurt.  These are liability waivers and they are quite common whenever someone engages in inherently dangerous activity.  But are liability waivers valid if they are a requirement to have a government job?  The Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled that they are invalid for that purpose.  In Marcinczyk v. State of N.J. Police. Train. Comm., the employee signed a waiver when he attended the police academy for his training.  During his training, he was assigned to be a “lunch recruit” where he was required to carry a 70-pound cooler with the lunches for all recruits.  He fell down a staircase while carrying the heavy cooler and then sued for his disabling injuries.  The State argued it was not liable because he signed away his rights.  But a sharply divided Supreme Court held that requiring him to sign a liability waiver as a condition of public employment violated the New Jersey Tort Claims Act.  The Court stated that, “compelled exculpatory waivers directly thwart the policies embodied in the Tort Claims Act by immunizing public entities from liability for conduct for which the Legislature intended them to answer.”

Date: 11/9/10 – Paul Castronovo – Castronovo & McKinney