Iowa does not allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

Galloway v. State of Iowa, 790 N.W.2d 252; 2010 Iowa Sup. LEXIS 109

Iowa follows the majority of states finding that the state has an interest in protecting kids from allowing their parents to think.

This case was brought by a parent whose child was hit by a car on an out of state field trip. The trip was an Upward Bound trip sponsored by University of Northern Iowa. The mother sued the State of Iowa, parent entity of the university. The University filed a motion for summary judgment based on two releases signed by the mother. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment, and the case was appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court. There is no information on whether there was a decision by the Iowa Appellate Court or if the appeal was directly to the Iowa Supreme Court.

An appeal from the trial court to the supreme court of a state can be done, but it is very rare and only for unusual or immediate circumstances.

The sole issue the court in its opinion discussed was the issue of whether a parent could sign away a minor’s right to sue in a preinjury release.

What are you supposed to say about a case when the court quotes this statement from the plaintiff’s argument?

In particular, she [plaintiff] contends public policy should preclude enforcement of releases executed by parents because parents are ill-equipped to assess in advance the nature of risks of injury faced by children while they are participating in activities at remote locations under the supervision of others and because parents are uninformed of the nature and extent of the gravity of the injuries to which their children may be exposed when the releases are executed. [Emphasis added]

Parents are ill equipped to assess the nature of the risk facing a child? Isn’t that what parenting is all about? When I see a parent reading the ingredients on a box in the supermarket with a toddler in the cart is the parent doing that to have something to talk about that night?

The court then stated:

By signing a preinjury waiver, a parent purports to agree in advance to bear the financial burden of providing for her child in the event the child is injured by a tortfeasor’s negligence. Sometimes parents are not willing or able to perform such commitments after an injury occurs. [Emphasis added]

The court followed that statement with:

If parents fail to provide for the needs of their injured children, and the preinjury waiver in favor of the tortfeasor is enforced, financial demands may be made on the public fisc to cover the cost of care.

So the potential risk to the coffers of the State of Iowa is greater than the need to be a responsible parent. The court sent the case back to the trial court for trial.

So? Summary of the case

There were several issues that this court ignored in favor of getting to the conclusion it wanted to reach. The releases, two of them, were poorly written and did not provide any information as to what the risks of the trip were. The releases appear to be set out in full in the decision which is below.

This case was not over after this decision. The plaintiff is a fourteen year old girl who was hit by a car crossing the street. There is probably a great assumption of the risk defense that would either significantly lower the damages or possibly allow the University/State to win. If this case is not settled after this decision, then there is a significant issue at trail as to whether the child assumed the risk of the injury.

However, Iowa, with this decision falls into the category where any organization or group dealing with kids must do so very carefully. Any child without health insurance is going to look for ways to pay the bills. Any child with insurance will have an insurance company looking for reimbursement for their losses because of the injuries.

So Now What?

Isn’t that another issue that parents are tasked with? What role is a parent going to play in the future based on the reasoning of the Iowa court? It seems that what the child is going to wear to school will be the limit. If the parent is presented with the proper information the parent should decide whether the financial risks and their resources are adequate to deal with the issues. If the parent is not presented with the proper information is it not the parent’s responsibility to study and find out what those risks are?

Youth organizations and youth group’s sole chance it to have a bill passed in the Iowa legislature that over turns this decision.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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