Delaware decision upholds a release signed by a parent against a minor’s claims

Hong v. Hockessin Athletic Club, 2012 Del. Super. LEXIS 340

One more state recognizes the need to allow people to decide to waive a claim to allow their children to participate.

In this case, the mother of the injured child filed a claim after the child was hurt on playground equipment at a health club. The child was three years old when he fell and broke his arm.

The release was contained in the Membership Application and Agreement. Both parents signed the agreement and listed their three children on the agreement as members of the club.

The plaintiffs sued for negligence, which was not clearly defined in the case or as set forth by the court in the complaint.

Summary of the case

Delaware requires that the language in a release be crystal clear and unequivocal. The parties to the release must contemplate a release when they make the agreement. The crystal clear and unequivocal language is met if the contract provisions include language “specifically referring to the negligence of the protected party.” The court in reviewing the release stated:

Here, Hong signed a comprehensive waiver of liability and release in connection with her Membership Agreement that expressly stated that she (and all others on her membership) assumed the risk of “any injury or damage incurred while engaging in any physical exercise or activity or use of any club facility on the premises,” including the use of “any equipment in the facility” and participation “in any activity, class, program, instruction, or any event sponsored by HAC.”

HAC is the acronym for the defendant health club, Hockessin Athletic Club.

The plaintiff argued that the release only applied to activities “sponsored” by HAC such as classes, not just injuries from being there.

The court then looked at the complaint on its whole and found the complaint failed to allege any claim of negligence with specificity. Consequently, the court found the complaint also was to be dismissed because the complaint failed to state a claim.

So Now What?

Maybe this will place Delaware in the category of a state where a parent can sign away a minor’s right to sue. However, this is a decision of the trial court, and this case can still be appealed to the Delaware Supreme Court. If this case is not appealed, it may be the start.

So for the time being, you cannot rely on this case, and you probably can only rely on it if it is not appealed for the County of New Castle Delaware.

This case also points out the importance of making sure your release is written correctly. Here the court stated that a release must include the word negligence of the defendant or person to be protected.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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