The tragic death of Nodar Kumaritashvili on the opening day of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games has been widely reported. VANOC magnanimously announced last week that they are giving Kumaritashvili’s family a sum of money under a private insurance policy.
When it was first reported, there was no mention if VANOC had compelled Kumaritashvili’s family to waive their legal rights to sue in return for accepting the money.
I e-mailed a respected newspaper columnist suggesting this might be a question worthy of asking at a press conference. Days later, the Vancouver Sun is reporting that VANOC is refusing to say if the family has had to waive their rights. VANOC gives the appearance by stonewalling that they are hiding something.
Olympic athletes are required to sign a waiver and release of liability as a precondition to compete. The waiver states, ‘I acknowledge and agree that: a. I participate in the XXI Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver at my own risk and that I will take all reasonable measures to protect myself from the risks of participation.’
These rights are waived however in light of the risks ordinarily inherent in the activity. It would be for the courts to decide if what happened to Nodar was within the range of risks normally assumed in the sport of luge – rather than abnormal or egregious risks – paying particular attention to the engineering, construction and maintenance of the track.
Regardless, it is disconcerting that VANOC would require Kumaritashvili’s family waive their right to seek legal compensation – in addition to the waiver Nodar signed in order to compete – in order to receive the death benefit.