An individual or organization’s risk of being held liable for personal injury or property damage may be shifted to another party who agrees to accept the risk and who holds liability insurance or sufficient assets to back up the acceptance of the risk. A release agreement guards against a successful lawsuit by the person signing the release; an indemnity agreement, in contrast, ensures that if some other person sues, the indemnifying party will be responsible for handling the claim.
The purpose of the Recreational Use of Land and Water Act (RULWA) is to encourage property owners to make their land (and water) available for public recreation by limiting the liability of property owners. The Act limits owners’ liability both for personal injury or property damage, whether the problem is blamed on the owners or on recreational users of the land.
Public access to property for recreational uses–such as hiking, bird watching, fishing and hunting–raises concern about the possibility of liability on account of injury to a recreational user. Pennsylvania law provides some protection from liability associated with public use of property for recreational purposes. Also there are practical steps that can be taken to minimize risk of liability.
A properly designed release agreement signed by a volunteer or participant in an activity can substantially reduce the liability risks of the organizing or hosting organization.