A release must apply to the activity and the person who you want to make sure cannot sue you.
In this case, a mother signed her son up to attend a day camp sponsored by the YMCA. While attending the day camp, the child was accidentally hit in the head by another child with a baseball bat. The mother sued for the child’s injuries.
The YMCA argued that the mother had signed a release, and therefore, the YMCA should be dismissed. The mother argued that the release only applied to her, not her child because the release was unclear as to who was being released in the document. (The mother argued the release was required for her to walk around the YMCA to sign her son up for the camp.)
In this case, the YMCA used its general release for people on the premises of the YMCA as a fitness facility, for its day camp. The release did not indicate a parent would be signing for the child nor did the release look to the issues the child would encounter, only an adult using the YMCA or any other gym.
The mother argued because the release did not identify her son, the injured party, as who the release applied to the release only applied to her while she was on the premises. Nothing in the document indicated that the mother was signing a release on behalf of her son.
Like most releases used in gyms and fitness centers it is written for the adult signing up to use the gym.
Under the law, “An agreement exculpating the drafter from liability for his or her own future negligence must clearly and explicitly express that this is the intent of the parties.”
What saved the YMCA was a technicality in the language of the release. To go to the day camp, the child attending must be a member of the YMCA. The mother of the injured child was not a member of the YMCA. However, her son was. Because the release referred to the YMCA member as the person giving up their right to sue, the court held the release applied to the child not the mother. This language allowed the court to find for the YMCA.
Releases are not documents you can merely find on the internet or put together based on language that sounds good. Think about the contract you used to purchase your house. It was a 10 to 20 page document used to buy something of value greater than $100,000 or so.
If someone is suing you for several million dollars do you want to rely on a document that you put together or worse stole from the business down the street.
Here again you have to make sure your release is properly written. You may have several different releases for different parties or activities. I commonly suggest that people use different paper to print the different release forms. Here the YMCA should have had a general release for use of its fitness and other facilities and a release for its day camp. One could have been printed on white paper and the other on green. Even better, put the release online and save paper.
Your release must identify who is protected by the release and who the release is going to stop from suing. In many cases, one parent will sign on behalf of a child. However, in some states, unless the language is clear, that parent may not be preventing the other parent from suing. Identify every person who can sue in the release as well as every person who cannot be sued. When in doubt, have both parents sign the release.
For information on other states where a parent can sign away a minor’s right to sue see: States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue–Updated 2011
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