Minnesota decision upholds parent’s right to sign away a minor’s right to sue.Posted: February 21, 2011
Case was a baseball camp where the minor was injured during horseplay.
This is a pretty simple case. The defendants operated a baseball camp on the campus of the University of Minnesota. The plaintiff’s mother had signed her son up for the camp, online or electronically. On the last day after lunch a group of students went to the courtyard. The plaintiff sustained a permanent eye injury when they started throwing woodchips from the courtyard at each other.
The father sued on behalf of his son. The trial court, a district court in the opinion, granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. The father on his and his son behalf appealed.
The plaintiff first argued that the release, or assumption of the risk agreement as it was termed in the decision, should be “thrown out” because it could not be produced. Because the mother had signed online there was no signed document. On top of that, the system used by the defendant did not produce any document indicating who had signed what documents.
However, the defendant was able to show that the mother had signed other documents just like the release. A roster of those kids that had attended the camp that summer, with the injured minor’s name on it was produced. The camp through a director, also testified that if the mother had not signed the release, the minor would not have been allowed to attend the camp.
The mother’s deposition was also introduced. She could not deny filing out the forms online even though she did not remember the forms.
The plaintiff’s then argued that the language of the release did not cover the injury the minor sustained. The language only spoke to baseball and as such the release only covered injuries that the minor could have received playing baseball. Horsing around during free time therefore, was not covered by the release. The plaintiff also argued the language that excluded the claims; the release sentence was separate from the sentence that identified the risks. As such the release should be very narrowly construed.
Neither argument was accepted by the court. The court found that the release covered more than just baseball, and the release had to be read as a whole so the risk was incorporated into the exculpatory sentence.
The plaintiff then argued the exculpatory clause violated public policy. The court dismissed this argument. The court found that the baseball camp was not educational in nature. The training could be found through other sources and playing baseball was not essential or of great importance to members of the public.
The rules of evidence have a procedure for admitting into trial documents that have been lost. The rule is based on procedure. The procedure to be allowed to go to a baseball camp required a parent to sign many documents. The child would not have been allowed at amp without signing all of the documents. A procedure was set up to show the mother had to have signed the release because her son was at the camp.
You should create a procedure for your business, camp or program. The best one I’ve seen for whitewater rafting was created by Mountain Waters Rafting. Guests were given their PFD’s (life jackets) when they handed in their releases. If a guest had on a PFD, the guest had signed a release.
The more you can identify a procedure that you used the same way every time, the easier to introduce a lost piece of paper.
Electronically, there can be several ways to make sure you can prove a person read and signed the release online. I first suggest you always tie a release into a credit card. The credit card company knows more about the holder of a credit card then you ever will. If the credit is accepted to pay for something on line, and the name on the release matches the name on the credit card you can prove the release was signed. If the trip or camp was paid for a release was signed.
You should also have a system that you are notified that each person has signed the documents. Create a way to download the information, name, address, etc. date and exact time the release was signed to your business computer and do so regularly. That information can be matched up, name, date and time to the credit card and payment used. Match this with your receipt of payment from the credit card company and you should have proof.
Make sure your release is written to cover all the risks of your program, business or activity. Here the language was broad enough the baseball program was covered for horseplay. How often do you feed guests, transport guests, and have guests just walking around that could be a chance to be injured. Your release needs to stop litigation, all types of litigation, not just what you face what you are selling to the public.
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