Updated November 10, 2020:

Waiver and release refer to the waiving of rights or privileges and the release of a party from their obligations or rights.

What Is a Waiver?

A waiver relinquishes a party's rights in a certain circumstance. When going skydiving, a person might sign a waiver that gives up their right to sue the skydiving company if something goes wrong. Waivers are signed intentionally, so the party giving up their rights should always know exactly what they're relinquishing.

Waiving rights are similar to legal forfeiture, but forfeiture is the result of wrongdoing, whereas waivers are voluntary.

When writing a contract, a waiver may be used to prevent a party from enforcing a right in the contract.

Constitutional rights can sometimes be waived in the court system. For instance, sometimes criminals will actually waive their right to counsel. Waivers offer legal permission to change the rules in a specific instance.

Intellectual property (IP) rights can be waived. If an independent contractor writes for a web content company, they might waive their IP rights to their work so that the company can use it as it pleases without fear of legal action.

When treated in a hospital for a severe car accident, the injured party may be asked to sign a waiver so that the hospital cannot be held liable if the person dies while the doctors are trying to save their life.

Professional football players sign waivers for certain rights that cause them to belong to a particular team for the duration of their contract.

What Is a Release?

A release is a legal document that relieves a party from certain:

  • Liabilities
  • Responsibilities
  • Obligations

There are many ways that a release can be used. In some cases, borrowers can be released from their obligation to repay a loan. This is called a release from debt. When a home buyer cannot pay their mortgage, some banks will allow a short sale with a release so that the home can be sold for whatever it is worth, and the bank cannot pursue the previous homeowner for any debt that isn't covered through the sale.

Releases can also be used when ownership is changing hands. Say a person is selling their car. The buyer of the used car will take over all of the rights that are included in the ownership of the vehicle. When the title is transferred, the previous owner releases their rights to that vehicle.

The word "release" also refers to the freeing of a prisoner. This concept can help paint a picture of how releases work in ownership, finances, and legal situations. If a debt is considered a type of confinement, a release of debt is freeing the debtor from their financial prison.

Release Versus Waiver

The main difference between releases and waivers is the transferring of ownership. When rights are released, they are transferred to another party. When rights are waived, they are gone altogether.

If intellectual property rights are waived, the IP can be used by any other party that has access to it. When the IP rights are released, they are released to another person or company which now holds those rights, so the IP cannot be used by anyone.

In the case of the skydiver, they might be asked to sign a release form rather than a waiver. The release form shifts the responsibility for any injuries or otherwise away from the skydiving company and onto the skydiver. This is called a release of liability form.

What Is a Release of Liability?

Release of liability is similar to the release of ownership or rights. Companies that run inherently dangerous activities, like marathons or rock climbing, use release of liability forms. When registering for a marathon, runners will likely be required to sign a release of liability document that says they will retain liability for themselves if they are hurt in any way while participating in the event and will not hold the race organizers or sponsors liable.

Waivers and releases used for risky events usually include a section where the participant is informed of the risks involved in the activity and must acknowledge those risks.

A release of liability is sometimes called a:

  • Release Form
  • Release of Liability Form
  • Waiver
  • Liability Waiver
  • Waiver of Liability

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