Insurance company release fails, even in the state where the company is located

Sport Underwriters.com release has some good points, but overall it has major flaws.

I received this release, which was provided with a quote for insurance. The quote was great. The quote required the insured to have a Waiver and Release System:

Waiver & Release System:

The insured must maintain a system to regularly secure signed Waiver and Release forms from participants. For minor participants, these waiver/release forms should be signed by a parent or guardian. Unintentional error on your part in securing Waiver and Release forms will not void your coverage in the event of a claim by a participant; however, your failure to maintain an adequate system to regularly secure Waiver and Release forms will void your coverage in the event of a claim. All waivers & medical release forms must be approved by underwriters; if you do not have one, we will provide for you.

Overall, that is a good thing. It is also not so different from what most insurance companies want to achieve. However, very few make it such a mandatory issue.

However, I am curious if their system allows for states to not have a system if they are prohibited by law or where releases have no legal value. (See: States that do not Support the Use of a Release.) Montana not only does not allow the use of a release, if an outfitter is found using one, their state license will be yanked, and they will be prohibited from engaging in any business.

Let’s look at the release itself:

This release came from a Sport Underwriters.com. The release also says it is a division of Sport and Special Event Insurance Agency USA which can be found here. That agency is located in New York, which does not allow the use of a release for commercial activities. (See New York Law Restricting the Use of Releases)

The release in its first paragraph states it covers “traveling to and from activity sites in which I am about to engage.”Some states consider transportation to be defined as a “public policy” which is not covered by a release. Some states allow a release to cover transportation if it is incidental to the activity; however, this release does not go deep enough into the issue, in my opinion, to make it effective to stop a suit over a car or bus accident.

The release also states in bold letters that the signor “…will wear approved protective gear as decreed by the governing body of the sport…” Very few outdoor recreation programs have a governing body that decrees safety gear. Some state or federal regulations may require some gear such as PFDs on whitewater for commercial operators, but very little in the rest of the industry.

The release, midway down the page, has a page for the signor to fill in the name of the company or person the release protecting. This is just plain confusing. What if that is skipped, is the release invalid? What if they spell the name wrong or put the wrong name down?

Then the release starts using the term releasees. Releasees is the term applied to the name in the blank. The language is quite broad, but the people being released are, by nature of the way the release is written, very narrowly defined. I generally, in any document being used with the general consumer, avoid using a legal term. It just becomes confusing for the consumer to understand, if they read the document and can make judges and juries mad.  Use the name of the company so that everyone knows no matter how confusing, at least who is being protected.

The release also says you are indemnifying the releasee. I’ve not read a single decision that allows indemnification to work in a release. There is a major difference between indemnifying against losses and stopping them to begin with, unless the indemnification language is written very specifically for a specific reason.

The release has two areas for signatures. One area is for adults to sign, and one area is for parents to sign. Consequently, either you are going to have a parent sign twice or signature line that is blank. There is no place for the minor to sign the agreement.

The parental signage line is preceded by a clause.

FOR PARTICIPANTS OF MINORITY AGE: This is to certify that I, as a Parent, Guardian, Temporary Guardian with legal responsibility for this participant, do consent and agree not only to his/her release of all Releasees, but also to release and indemnify the Releasees from any and all liability incident o his/her involvement in these programs for myself, my heirs, assigns and next of kin.

First, the paragraph is directed to the participants in the first line then refers to the parent guardian. I’ve never heard of a Temporary Guardian. My concern with this is, volunteer youth leaders (church groups, Scout groups, etc.) probably believe they are temporary guardians and sign the form. The outfitter will probably accept the form, not knowing that the signature of the adult has no legal value.

Then the telltale clause that makes me think the release was not written by an attorney: “…agree not only to his/her release of all Releasees, but also to release and indemnify the Releasees…” This language says you are releasing the outfitter and releasing and indemnifying the outfitter. In effect, whoever wrote this stuttered.

Then hint two: “…for myself, my heirs, assigns and next of kin.” The person signing is signing away their right to sue, their heirs, which may include their child’s right to sue, and the adults next of kin. If the child is a minor, they have not signed away the child’s right to sue or the right to sue of the child’s heirs or next of kin.

None of the language above conforms to the required language in Colorado or Florida or the language that other statutes and court cases suggest. As far as a release against the claims of a minor this release fails miserably.

Finally, there is no jurisdiction and venue clause. See Four releases signed and all of them thrown out because they lacked one simple sentence!

My Legal Stutter

An attorney has to write your release. Your release must meet your state laws. Your release must meet the requirements of your program.

Free releases cost you a fortune. The amount of time you will spend defending a release given to you by an insurance company or created by someone who does not understand the legal ramifications is not worth it. No trial will cost you less than ten days, and if you are making less than $1500 in profit in ten days, you need to get another job. J

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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