Kentucky determines that a parent cannot sign away a child’s right to sue.

Courts are allowed to pick and choose the case law they relied upon and to distinguish or ignore the case law the court does not like. In this case, the Kentucky Supreme Court ignored law it did not like or simply found a way around the case law it did not want to agree with.

Citation: E.M. v. House of Boom Ky., LLC (In re Miller), 2019 Ky. LEXIS 211, 2019 WL 2462697

State: Kentucky, Supreme Court of Kentucky

Plaintiff: Kathy Miller, as Next Friend of Her Minor Child, E.M.

Defendant: House of Boom Kentucky, LLC

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: release

Holding: for the plaintiff

Year: 2019

Summary

Kentucky Supreme Court rules that a parent cannot sign away a minor’s right to sue.

Facts

House of Boom, LLC (“House of Boom”) is a for-profit trampoline park located in Louisville, Kentucky. The park is a collection of trampoline and acrobatic stunt attractions. On August 6, 2015, Kathy Miller purchased tickets for her 11-year-old daughter, E.M., and her daughter’s friends to go play at House of Boom. Before purchasing the tickets, House of Boom required the purchaser to check a box indicating that the purchaser had read the waiver of liability.

Once Miller checked the box, E.M. participated in activities at House of Boom. She was injured when another girl jumped off a three-foot ledge and landed on E.M’s ankle, causing it to break. Miller, as next friend of her daughter, sued House of Boom for the injury. House of Boom, relying on Miller’s legal power to waive the rights of her daughter via the release, moved for summary judgment. The Western District of Kentucky concluded that House of Boom’s motion for summary judgment involved a novel issue of state law and requested Certification from this Court which we granted. Both parties have briefed the issue and the matter is now ripe for Certification.

So, the plaintiff sued in Federal District Court. Because the issue of whether or not a parent could sign away a minor’s right to sue had not been reviewed by the Kentucky Supreme Court, the federal district court asked the Kentucky Supreme Court to review the case. The Kentucky Supreme court did with this decision.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The sole question before the court was whether a parent could sign away a minor’s right to sue.

The question before this Court is whether a parent has the authority to sign a pre-injury exculpatory agreement on behalf of her child, thus terminating the child’s potential right to compensation for an injury occurring while participating in activities sponsored by a for-profit company.

The court in reviewing the case law from other states on this issue decided the cases had been determined in one of four categories.

House of Boom categorizes these decisions in as those that enforced the waiver and those that did not, but the decisions of those jurisdictions more accurately fall into four distinct categories: (1) jurisdictions that have enforced a waiver between a parent and a for-profit entity; (2) jurisdictions that have enforced waivers between a parent and a non-profit entity; (3) jurisdictions that have declared a waiver between a parent and a for-profit entity unenforceable; and (4) jurisdictions that have declared a waiver between a parent and a non-profit entity unenforceable.

By making this distinction in the cases to start, the court immediately eliminated much of the case law supporting the defendants. In most states, a non-profit has no different legal duty to patrons then a for profit, and none that I can find in Kentucky. However, by using these categories the court was able to place this case in the category with only one other decision that could support the defendant.

House of Boom is a for-profit trampoline park, and eleven out of twelve jurisdictions that have analyzed similar waivers between parents and for-profit entities have adhered to the common law and held such waivers to be unenforceable.

The court then justified it classifications and reasoning by stating a commercial entity had more ways to deal with the cost of the liability than a non-profit.

A commercial entity has the ability to purchase insurance and spread the cost between its customers. It also has the ability to train its employees and inspect the business for unsafe conditions.

However, none of the factors listed above are any different from the situations or requirements to do business for a non-profit operation.

The court then fell back on a legal fallacy that plaintiffs have been arguing for years.

A child has no similar ability to protect himself from the negligence of others within the confines of a commercial establishment. “If pre-injury releases were permitted for commercial establishments, the incentive to take reasonable precautions to protect the safety of minor children would be removed.

However, no cases I’ve read have ever stated that the injury was caused because the defendant did not have to deal with liability issues. Any breach of a duty of care that has occurred were not across the board, just spotty.

The court concluded:

Under the common law of this Commonwealth, absent special circumstances, a parent has no authority to enter into contracts on a child’s behalf.

So Now What?

The plaintiff’s mother purchased tickets for several kids. So, for the majority of the children, the release was void to begin with. One release was signed for multiple possible plaintiffs by someone who did not have the legal authority to sign on their behalf anyway.

The category’s trick was interesting. By restricting the cases it reviewed to artificial categories the Kentucky Supreme Court eliminated several cases that supported the defendant’s position. On top of that, it also then ignored cases after the initial cases it reviewed that supported the use of a release signed by a parent for a child in for-profit or commercial situations.

The Ohio Supreme Court found that a parent could sign away a minor’s right to sue in a non-profit case: Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 696 N.E.2d 201, 82 Ohio St.3d 367 (1998). Subsequent decisions in Ohio by the appellate courts have also upheld a release signed by the parent of the injured child: Ohio Appellate decision upholds the use of a release for a minor for a commercial activity.

By placing blinders on the case law it was looking at, it is a lot easier to ignore decisions you do not want to deal with.

It is disturbing when a court, weaves its way through case law to reach a conclusion it could have easily reached without circular path. Either the court works its way around lots of decisions or the court realized this decision was going against the general flow of law in the US on this issue and wanted to justify its decision.

Statutes and prior law in Kentucky say a parent’s rights are not absolute in controlling their child and thus a parent cannot sign away their minor child’s right to sue.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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E.M. v. House of Boom Ky., LLC (In re Miller), 2019 Ky. LEXIS 211, 2019 WL 2462697

E.M. v. House of Boom Ky., LLC (In re Miller), 2019 Ky. LEXIS 211, 2019 WL 2462697

In Re: Kathy Miller, as Next Friend of Her Minor Child, E.M.

v.

House of Boom Kentucky, LLC

No. 2018-SC-000625-CL

Supreme Court of Kentucky

June 13, 2019

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY LOUISVILLE DIVISION CASE NO. 3:16-CV-332-CRS

COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Grover Simpson Cox Grover S. Cox Law Office Vanessa Lynn Armstrong U.S. District Court

COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Anthony M. Pernice Reminger Co., LPA

COUNSEL FOR AMICUS CURIAE KENTUCKY JUSTICE ASSOCIATION: Kevin Crosby Burke Jamie Kristin Neal Burke Neal PLLC

OPINION

VANMETER, JUSTICE

By order entered February 14, 2019, this Court granted the United States District Court, Western District of Kentucky’s request for certification of law on the following issue:

Is a pre-injury liability waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a minor child enforceable under Kentucky law?

After careful consideration, we hold that such a waiver is unenforceable under the specific facts of this case.

I. Factual and Procedural Background.

House of Boom, LLC (“House of Boom”) is a for-profit trampoline park located in Louisville, Kentucky. The park is a collection of trampoline and acrobatic stunt attractions. On August 6, 2015, Kathy Miller purchased tickets for her 11-year-old daughter, E.M., and her daughter’s friends to go play at House of Boom. Before purchasing the tickets, House of Boom required the purchaser to check a box indicating that the purchaser had read the waiver of liability. The waiver reads:

(1) RELEASE OF LIABILITY: Despite all known and unknown risks including b[u]t not limite[d] to serious bodily injury, permanent disability, paralysis and loss of life, I, on behalf of myself, and/or on behalf of my spouse, minor child(ren)/ward(s) hereby expressly and volun[]tarily remise, release, acquit, satisfy and forever discharge and agree not to sue HOUSE OF BOOM, including its suppliers, designers, installers, manufacturers of any trampoline equipment, foam pit material, or such other material and equipment in HOUSE OF BOOM’S facility (all hereinafter referred to as “EQUIPMENT SUPPLIERS”) and agree to hold said parties harmless of and from any and all manner of actions or omission(s), causes of action, suits, sums of money, controversies, damages, judgments, executions, claims and demands whatsoever, in law or in equity, including, but no[t] limited to, any and all claim[s] which allege negligent acts and/or omissions committed by HOUSE OF BOOM or any EQUIPMENT SUPPLIERS, whether the action arises out of any damage, loss, personal injury, or death to me or my spouse, minor child(ren)/ward(s), while participating in or as a result of participating in any of the ACTIVITIES in or about the premises. This Release of Liability, is effective and valid regardless of whether the damage, loss or death is a result of any act or omission on the part of HOUSE OF BOOM and/or any EQUIPMENT SUPPLIERS.

The agreement goes on to state:

1. By signing this document, I understand that I may be found by a court of law to have forever waived my and my spouse and/or child(ren)/ward(s) right to maintain any action against HOUSE OF BOOM on the basis of any claim from which I have released HOUSE OF BOOM and any released party herein and that I have assumed all risk of damage, loss, personal injury, or death to myself, my spouse and/or my minor child(ren)/wards(s) and agreed to indemnify and hold harmless HOUSE OF BOOM and all EQUIPMENT SUPPLIERS from and against any all losses, liabilities, claims, obligations, costs, damages and/or expenses whatsoever paid, incurred and/or suffered by HOUSE OF BOOM and all EQUIPMENT SUPPLIERS as a result of the participation in ACTIVITIES in or about the facility by myself, my spouse and/or child(ren)/ward(s) and/or claims asserted by myself, my spouse and/or child(ren)/ward(s) against HOUSE OF BOOM and all EQUIPMENT SUPPLIERS related to such participation in ACTIVITIES. I have had a reasonable and sufficient opportunity to read and understand this entire document and consult with legal counsel, or have voluntarily waived my right to do so. I knowingly and voluntarily agree to be bound by all terms and conditions set forth herein.

The above waiver includes language that, if enforceable, would release all claims by (1) the individual who checked the box, (2) her spouse, (3) her minor child, or (4) her ward against House of Boom. Once Miller checked the box, E.M. participated in activities at House of Boom. She was injured when another girl jumped off a three-foot ledge and landed on E.M’s ankle, causing it to break. Miller, as next friend of her daughter, sued House of Boom for the injury. House of Boom, relying on Miller’s legal power to waive the rights of her daughter via the release, moved for summary judgment. The Western District of Kentucky concluded that House of Boom’s motion for summary judgment involved a novel issue of state law and requested Certification from this Court which we granted. Both parties have briefed the issue and the matter is now ripe for Certification.

II. Analysis.

The question before this Court is whether a parent has the authority to sign a pre-injury exculpatory agreement on behalf of her child, thus terminating the child’s potential right to compensation for an injury occurring while participating in activities sponsored by a for-profit company. Although an issue of first impression in the Commonwealth, the enforceability of a pre-injury waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a child has been heavily litigated in a multitude of jurisdictions. House of Boom categorizes these decisions in as those that enforced the waiver and those that did not, but the decisions of those jurisdictions more accurately fall into four distinct categories: (1) jurisdictions that have enforced a waiver between a parent and a for-profit entity;[1] (2) jurisdictions that have enforced waivers between a parent and a non-profit entity;[2] (3) jurisdictions that have declared a waiver between a parent and a for-profit entity unenforceable;[3] and (4) jurisdictions that have declared a waiver between a parent and a non-profit entity unenforceable.[4]House of Boom is a for-profit trampoline park, and eleven out of twelve jurisdictions that have analyzed similar waivers between parents and for-profit entities have adhered to the common law and held such waivers to be unenforceable.[5]

Pre-injury release waivers are not per se invalid in the Commonwealth but are generally “disfavored and are strictly construed against the parties relying on them.” Hargis v. Baize, 168 S.W.3d 36, 47 (Ky. 2005) (citation omitted). We analyze these agreements for violations of public policy. See Cobb v. Gulf Refining Co., 284 Ky. 523, 528, 145 S.W.2d 96, 99 (1940) (citing Restatement of Contracts § 575). The relevant public policy here is whether a parent has the authority to enter into an exculpatory agreement on their child’s behalf, negating any opportunity for a tort claim-a child’s property right-if House of Boom’s negligence causes injury to the child.

The general common law rule in Kentucky is that “parents ha[ve] no right to compromise or settle” their child’s cause of action as that “right exist[s] in the child alone,” and parents have no right to enter into contracts on behalf of their children absent special circumstances. Meyer’s Adm’r v. Zoll, 119 Ky. 480, 486, 84 S.W. 543, 544 (1905); see also Wilson v. Wilson, 251 Ky. 522, 525, 65 S.W.2d 694, 695 (1933) (“[W]hile the mother might enter into a contract regarding her rights, she could not contract away the rights of her unborn child[]”);GGNSC Stanford, LLC v. Rome, 388 S.W.3d 117, 123 (Ky. App. 2012) (“In light of the limited authority granted to custodians by KRS[6] 405.020 and KRS 387.280, we cannot conclude they are permitted to contractually bind their wards without formal appointment as guardians[]”). Thus, we must determine whether Kentucky public policy supports a change in the common law that would protect for-profit entities from liability by enforcing pre-injury liability waivers signed by parents on behalf of their children. First, KRS 405.020 provides that “[t]he father and mother shall have the joint custody, nurture, and education of their children who are under the age of eighteen (18).” However, this grant of custody and a parent’s right to raise their child, choose the child’s educational path, and make healthcare decisions on a child’s behalf has never abrogated the traditional common law view that parents have no authority to enter into contracts on behalf of their child when dealing with a child’s property rights, prior to being appointed guardian by a district court. Scott v. Montgomery Traders Bank & Trust Co., 956 S.W.2d 902, 904 (Ky. 1997).

In Scott, the parent at issue attempted to settle her child’s tort claim and fund a trust with the settlement funds without being appointed guardian by a district court. Id. This Court held that

[i]t is fundamental legal knowledge in this state that District Court has exclusive jurisdiction “. . . for the appointment and removal of guardians . . . and for the management and settlement of their accounts” and that a person must be appointed as guardian by the Court in order to legally receive settlements in excess of $10, 000.00.

Id. (quoting KRS 387.020(1), KRS 387.125(b)) (emphasis added). Additionally, our precedent dictates that even when acting as next friend, a minor’s parent has no right to compromise or settle a minor’s claim without court approval or collect the proceeds of a minor’s claim.[7] Metzger Bros. v. Watson’s Guardian, 251 Ky. 446, 450, 65 S.W.2d 460, 462 (1933). Thus, finding no inherent right on the part of a parent to contract on behalf of their child, the remaining question is whether public policy demands enforcement of these contracts within the Commonwealth.

House of Boom’s initial public policy argument is that a parent’s fundamental liberty interest “in the care and custody of their children” supports enforcing a for-profit entity’s pre-injury liability waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a minor child. Morgan v. Getter, 441 S.W.3d 94, 112 (Ky. 2014) (citing Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 65, 120 S.Ct. 2054, 2060, 147 L.Ed.2d 49 (2000) (“The liberty interest … of parents in the care, custody, and control of their children-is perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by this Court[]”). Although this Court recognizes a parent’s fundamental liberty interest in the rearing of one’s child, this right is not absolute, and the Commonwealth may step in as parens patraie[8] to protect the best interests of the child. See Hojnowski, 901 A.2d at 390 (“the question whether a parent may release a minor’s future tort claims implicates wider public policy concerns and the parens patriae duty to protect the best interests of children[]”); see also Cooper, 48 P.3d at 1235 n. 11 (parental release of child’s right to sue for negligence is “not of the same character and quality as those rights recognized as implicating parents’ fundamental liberty interest in the ‘care, custody and control’ of their children[]”). House of Boom argues that the parens patriae doctrine “is difficult to defend in a post-Troxel world.” However, if Troxel is read to grant parents the decision to enter into pre-injury liability waivers, then, logically, our court-appointed guardian statutes and statutes restricting a parent’s ability to settle claims post-injury would also infringe upon a parent’s fundamental liberty interest. As litigation restrictions upon parents have remained a vital piece of our Commonwealth’s civil practice and procedure, we do not recognize a parent’s fundamental liberty interest to quash their child’s potential tort claim.

House of Boom next argues that public policy concerns surrounding post-injury settlements between parents and defendants are not present when a parent is signing a pre-injury release waiver (signing in the present case being checking a box on an I phone), and therefore, the state only needs to step in to protect the child post-injury, not pre-injury. First, we note that since Meyer’s Adm’r and Metzger Bros., this Court and the legislature have protected minor’s rights to civil claims. See KRS 387.280. Indeed, “children deserve as much protection from the improvident compromise of their rights before an injury occurs [as our common law and statutory schemes] afford[] them after the injury.” Hojnowski, 901 A.2d at 387. As summarized in Hawkins, 37 P.3d at 1066,

[w]e see little reason to base the validity of a parent’s contractual release of a minor’s claim on the timing of an injury. Indeed, the law generally treats preinjury releases or indemnity provisions with greater suspicion than postinjury releases. See Shell Oil Co. v. Brinkerhoff-Signal Drilling Co., 658 P.2d 1187, 1189 (Utah 1983). An exculpatory clause that relieves a party from future liability may remove an important incentive to act with reasonable care. These clauses are also routinely imposed in a unilateral manner without any genuine bargaining or opportunity to pay a fee for insurance. The party demanding adherence to an exculpatory clause simply evades the necessity of liability coverage and then shifts the full burden of risk of harm to the other party. Compromise of an existing claim, however, relates to negligence that has already taken place and is subject to measurable damages. Such releases involve actual negotiations concerning ascertained rights and liabilities. Thus, if anything, the policies relating to restrictions on a parent’s right to compromise an existing claim apply with even greater force in the preinjury, exculpatory clause scenario.

The public policy reasons for protecting a child’s civil claim pre-injury are no less present than they are post-injury, and we are unpersuaded by House of Boom’s arguments to the contrary.

Lastly, House of Boom argues that enforcing a waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a child to enter a for-profit trampoline park furthers the public policy of encouraging affordable recreational activities. In making this argument, House of Boom relies on the decisions of states that have enforced these waivers between a parent and a non-commercial entity. Granted, this Commonwealth has similar public policy to these jurisdictions to “encourage wholesome recreation for boys and girls” and to limit liability for those volunteering, in a variety of ways, to increase recreational and community activities across the Commonwealth. Wilson v. Graves Cty. Bd. Of Educ, 307 Ky. 203, 206, 210 S.W.2d 350, 351 (1948); see also KRS 162.055 (granting limited immunity to school districts for allowing the public to use school grounds for “recreation, sport, academic, literary, artistic, or community uses”); KRS 411.190(2) (“[t]he purpose of this section is to encourage owners of land to make land and water areas available to the public for recreational purposes by limiting their liability toward persons entering thereon for such purposes[]”). However, the same public policy implications that apply when dealing with the voluntary opening of private property or a school district’s limited immunity allowing community use of school property do not apply when dealing with a commercial entity.

A commercial entity has the ability to purchase insurance and spread the cost between its customers. It also has the ability to train its employees and inspect the business for unsafe conditions. A child has no similar ability to protect himself from the negligence of others within the confines of a commercial establishment. “If pre-injury releases were permitted for commercial establishments, the incentive to take reasonable precautions to protect the safety of minor children would be removed.” Kirton, 997 So.2d at 358. Accordingly, no public policy exists to support House of Boom’s affordable recreational activities argument in the context of a commercial activity.[9]

HI. Conclusion.

Under the common law of this Commonwealth, absent special circumstances, a parent has no authority to enter into contracts on a child’s behalf. Based upon our extensive research and review of the relevant policy in this Commonwealth and the nation as a whole, we find no relevant public policy to justify abrogating the common law to enforce an exculpatory agreement between a for-profit entity and a parent on behalf of her minor child.[10] Simply put, the statutes of the General Assembly and decisions of this Court reflect no public policy shielding the operators of for-profit trampoline parks from liability.

All sitting. All concur.

———

Notes:

[1] Maryland’s highest court is the only judicial body to enforce these waivers when one of the parties is a for-profit entity. However, Maryland’s court rules allow parents to “make decisions to terminate tort claims” without “judicial interference.” BJ’s Wholesale Club Inc. v. Rosen, 80 A.3d 345, 356-57 (Md. 2013) (citing Md. Code Ann. § 6-205). Kentucky does not have a similar provision in our court rules, statutes, or judicial decisions.

[2] See Kelly v. United States, 809 F.Supp.2d 429, 437 (E.D. N.C. 2011) (waiver enforceable as it allowed plaintiff to “participate in a school-sponsored enrichment program that was extracurricular and voluntary[]”); Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist, 274 Cal.Rptr. 647, 649-50 (Cal.Ct.App. 1990) (upholding a pre-injury release executed by a father on behalf of his minor child which waived claims resulting from an injury during a school sponsored activity); Sharon v. City of Newton, 769 N.E.2d 738, 747 (Mass. 2002) (upholding a public school extracurricular sports activities waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a minor); Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 696 N.E.2d 201, 205 (Ohio 1998) (holding that public policy supporting limiting liability of volunteer coaches and landowners who open their land to the public “justified] giving parents authority to enter into [pre-injury liability waivers] on behalf of their minor children!]”).

[3] See In re Complaint of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., 403 F.Supp.2d 1168, 1172-73 (S.D. Fla. 2005) (where “a release of liability is signed on behalf of a minor child for an activity run by a for-profit business, outside of a school or community setting, the release is typically unenforceable against the minor[]”); Simmons v. Parkette Nat’l Gymnastic Training Ctr., 670 F.Supp. 140, 144 (E.D. Pa. 1987) (invalidating a pre-injury release waiver signed by a parent in adherence with the “common law rule that minors, with certain exceptions, may disaffirm their contracts [based on] the public policy concern that minors should not be bound by mistakes resulting from their immaturity or the overbearance of unscrupulous adults[]”); Cooper v. Aspen Skiing Co., 48 P.3d 1229, 1237 (Colo. 2002) (“[T]o allow a parent to release a child’s possible future claims for injury caused by negligence may as a practical matter leave the minor in an unacceptably precarious position with no recourse, no parental support, and no method to support himself or care for his injury[]”), superseded by statute, Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-22-107(3)); Kirton v. Fields, 997 So.2d 349, 358 (Fla. 2008) (invalidating agreement between parent and for-profit ATV park, but limiting the holding to “injuries resulting from participation in a commercial activity[]”); Meyer v. Naperville Manner, Inc., 634 N.E.2d 411, 414 (111. 1994) (invalidating waiver between parent and for-profit horse riding stable); Woodman ex. rel Woodman v. Kera LLC, 785 N.W.2d 1, 16 (Mich. 2010) (holding, in a case against a for-profit inflatable play area, that state common law indicated that enforcement of a waiver signed by parent was “contrary to the established public policy of this state” and that the legislature is better equipped for such a change in the common law); Hojnowski v. Vans Skate Park, 901 A.2d 381, 386 (N.J. 2006) (“the public policy of New Jersey prohibits a parent of a minor child from releasing a minor child’s potential tort claims arising out of the use of a commercial recreational facility[]”); Ohio Cas. Ins. Co. v. Mallison, 354 P.2d 800, 802 (Or. 1960) (invalidating an indemnity provision in a settlement agreement-after settlement the child sustained further injury-in part because a parent’s duty to act “for the benefit of his child [is] not fully discharged where the parent enters into a bargain which gives rise to conflicting interests[]”); Blackwell v. Sky High Sports Nashville Operations, LLC, 523 S.W.3d 624, 651 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2017) (in holding a parent-signed waiver unenforceable, the court held that Tennessee had no public policy supporting the “desire to shield the operators of for-profit trampoline parks from liability[]”); Munoz u. IUaz Inc., 863 S.W.2d 207, 210 (Tex. App. 1993) (“in light of this state’s long-standing policy to protect minor children, the language, ‘decisions of substantial legal significance’in section 12.04(7) of the Family Code cannot be interpreted as empowering the parents to waive the rights of a minor child to sue for personal injuries[]”); Hawkins v. Peart, 37 P.3d 1062, 1066 (Utah 2001) (concluding that “a parent does not have the authority to release a child’s claims before an injury”); Scott v. Pac. W. Mountain Resort, 834 P.2d 6, 11-12 (Wash. 1992) (“Since a parent generally may not release a child’s cause of action after injury, it makes little, if any, sense to conclude a parent has the authority to release a child’s cause of action prior to an injury[]”).

[4] See Fedor v. Mauwehu Council, Boy Scouts of America, Inc., 143 A.2d 466, 468-69 (Conn. 1958) (invalidating a waiver signed by a child’s parents allowing the child to attend Boy Scout camp); Galloway v. State, 790 N.W.2d 252, 259 (Iowa 2010) (invalidating a pre-injury release waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a child attending a school sponsored field trip because of Iowa’s “strong public policy favoring the protection of children’s legal rights”).

[5] While a slight majority of jurisdictions support enforceability in the context of a non-profit recreational activity, non-profits and volunteer youth sports raise different public policy concerns which we need not address in this opinion today.

[6] Kentucky Revised Statutes.

[7] The legislature has sought fit to slightly change this portion of the common law and has authorized parents to receive funds less than $10, 000, but those settlements must be approved by a court before the funds may be paid to a parent in custody of a child. KRS 387.280. Thus, a parent, based merely on custody, still maintains no right to negotiate a settlement on behalf of their child.

[8] See Parens Patriae, Black’s Law Dictionary (10th. ed 2014) (“The state regarded as a sovereign; the state in its capacity as provider of protection to those unable to care for themselves”); see also KRS 600.010(2)(a) (the Commonwealth should “direct its efforts to promoting protection of children”); Giuliani v. Gutter, 951 S.W.2d 318, 319 (Ky. 1997) (relevant public policy existed to support the enlargement of children’s legal rights under the common law derived from KRS 600.010(2)(a)’s directive to protect children).

[9] As previously noted, the question of whether public policy exists to require enforcement of parent-signed, pre-injury waivers in a non-commercial context is not before this Court today, and thus we make no determination on the issue.

[10] House of Boom retains the ability to urge change in the common law by petitioning the General Assembly to enact a statute that supports a parent’s ability to waive their child’s legal rights. See Alaska Stat. § 09.65.292 (2004) (“a parent may, on behalf of the parent’s child, release or waive the child’s prospective claim for negligence against the provider of a sports or recreational activity in which the child participates to the extent that the activities to which the waiver applies are clearly and conspicuously set out in the written waiver and to the extent the waiver is otherwise valid. The release or waiver must be in writing and shall be signed by the child’s parent[]); Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-22-107(3) (2003) (“A parent of a child may, on behalf of the child, release or waive the child’s prospective claim for negligence[]”).

———


If you really are bad, a judge will figure out a way to void your release

Davis, v. 3 Bar F Rodeo, 2007 Ky. App. LEXIS 423

Appellate court sends back to trial court on issue that release did not protect against Gross Negligence, and the deceased did not have time to read the release.

I guess I knew that these contests happened. I grew up in a rural community where we had greased pig contests, but nothing like this. The plaintiff entered a contest where he went into a rodeo and stood in a white circle. There were other participants also standing in circles. A bull was released into the ring. The last person standing in a white circle won. Prize money was $50.00. The contest was called the “Ring of Fear.” The bull struck the deceased bursting his liver.

$50.00?

The plaintiff’s spouse sued. The deceased prior to entering the ring signed a release. The release was comprehensive but apparently had all participant signatures on one form. Allegedly, the deceased was not given any time to read the release.

Prior to the bull being released into the ring, the bull was allegedly provoked by jabbing him with a wooden object and beating sticks against the bull’s cage. (I’m guessing PETA is not big in this part of Kentucky…….)

The trial court dismissed the complaint based on the release signed by the deceased. The plaintiff appealed.

Summary of the case

The appellate court first looked at the Kentucky Farm Animals Activities Act (FAAA) KRS 247.401 through KRS 247.4029. The court found the statute was applicable to the facts in this case. The court also found that the warnings found in the act provided immunity to defendants who posted the warnings. Failure to post the warnings did not create a claim of negligence per se or strict liability as the plaintiff argued. Failing to post the warnings simply failed to provide the immunity under the statute.

The court also found that the FAAA allowed farm animal event sponsors to sue the act if they posted the warning signs.

The court found that the FAAA had no duty to reduce or eliminate the inherent risks found in farm animal activities. The court also found that act did not protect sponsors that intentionally mistreat or aggravate a farm animal. That would be the antithesis of the purpose of the act.

The court then looked at the issue of the release and stated,

While agreements to exempt future liability for either ordinary or gross negligence are not invalid per se, they are generally disfavored and are strictly construed against the parties relying upon them. [Emphasize added]

Although not a definitive statement on the issue, it appears that under Kentucky law, a release will protect a defendant against a claim of gross negligence.

Releases in Kentucky will be upheld if they meet the following tests if:

(1) it explicitly expresses an intention to exonerate by using the word “negligence;” or

(2) it clearly and specifically indicates an intent to release a party from liability for a personal injury caused by that party’s own conduct; or

(3) protection against negligence is the only reasonable construction of the contract language; or

(4) the hazard experienced was clearly within the contemplation of the provision.

From a legal point, this is an extremely broad language about how a release will be interpreted by the courts.

The court then examined the release and found no language the court could interpret that could be used to say the release was going to stop a gross negligence claim. The court also found that intentionally mistreating the bull would “at the very least constitute gross negligence.”

The court followed up by stating that infuriating a bull would constitute willful of wanton conduct which “a party may not contract away any liability through a release.”

Finally, the court looked at a laundry list of additional issues raised by the plaintiff:

..that Appellees should have inquired as to the abilities of the participants to participate in the Ring of Fear. Finally, Susan contends that Charles did not have an opportunity to read the release prior to signing it.

The court stated that those were all factual issues to be resolved by a trier of fact.

So Now What?

Although the issue that a release in Kentucky may protect against gross negligence is great as well as the broad language that can be used in a release in Kentucky, the last two issues mentioned by the court allow numerous ways to void releases in Kentucky and place a burden upon the business or program operating in Kentucky and using a release.

That is requiring an outfitter to see if a guest has the sufficient skills, ability and desire to undertake the activities and making sure the person signing a release has sufficient time to read the release.

Solving the problems of the Defendant

First, I would have raised an assumption of risk argument, although I am not sure of the status of A/R in Kentucky. However, I believe that it is pretty obvious that you can get gored by a bull in a ring. The deceased and the plaintiff were going to the event for a rodeo so it had to have been obvious, to some extent.

Second by having separate releases rather than one sign-up sheet, the argument that the deceased did not have time to read the release could have been diffused if not eliminated. If each person has a sheet of paper, then there is no rush to get all the signatures on one sheet of paper.

Still to be resolved

The issue that the defendant did not enquire as to the ability of the participant to participate in the Ring of Fire is an open-ended opportunity for every lawsuit in Kentucky to go to trial.

How are you going to determine the requirements for a participant to undertake an activity? No matter what system, test or determination you make, you did not do a good job if someone is hurt or injured on your trip. Nor can you use medical information to determine if someone can participate because unless you are a physician, that would require diagnosis which you cannot do.

The only solution you can come up with to create a system so the participants can self-determine if they are able to participate. Show a video or create a checklist.  Make sure your release states that the person has watched the video, seen your website and reviewed the checklist and understands it is their responsibility to determine if they are able to participate in the activity.

This could be a nightmare in Kentucky.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Davis, v. 3 Bar F Rodeo, 2007 Ky. App. LEXIS 423

Davis, v. 3 Bar F Rodeo, 2007 Ky. App. LEXIS 423

Susan Davis, Individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of Charles A. Davis, Deceased, Appellants v. 3 Bar F Rodeo; Marcus Fannin; Bobby Ray Fannin; Grant County Fair, Inc., Appellees

NO. 2006-CA-002212-MR

COURT OF APPEALS OF KENTUCKY

2007 Ky. App. LEXIS 423

November 2, 2007, Rendered

NOTICE:

PLEASE REFER TO THE KENTUCKY RULES REGARDING FINALITY OF OPINIONS. TO BE PUBLISHED. [UNLESS OTHERWISE ORDERED BY THE KENTUCKY SUPREME COURT, OPINIONS DESIGNATED “TO BE PUBLISHED” BY THE COURT OF APPEALS ARE NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IF DISCRETIONARY REVIEW IS PENDING, IF DISCRETIONARY REVIEW IS GRANTED, OR IF ORDERED NOT TO BE PUBLISHED BY THE COURT WHEN DENYING THE MOTION FOR DISCRETIONARY REVIEW OR GRANTING WITHDRAWAL OF THE MOTION.]

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: As Modified May 2, 2008.

Rehearing denied by Davis v. 3 Bar F. Rodeo, 2008 Ky. App. LEXIS 266 (Ky. Ct. App., May 2, 2008)

Review denied and ordered not published by Grant County Fair, Inc. v. Davis, 2008 Ky. LEXIS 249 (Ky., Oct. 15, 2008)

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]

APPEAL FROM GRANT CIRCUIT COURT. HONORABLE STEPHEN L. BATES, JUDGE. ACTION NO. 05-CI-00427.

DISPOSITION: REVERSING AND REMANDING.

COUNSEL: BRIEF AND ORAL ARGUMENT FOR APPELLANTS: Jerry M. Miniard, Florence, Kentucky.

BRIEF AND ORAL ARGUMENT FOR APPELLEE, GRANT COUNTY FAIR, INC.: Thomas R. Nienaber, Covington, Kentucky

BRIEFS FILED FOR APPELLEES, 3 BAR F RODEO, MARCUS FANNIN, AND BOBBY RAY FANNIN: Steven N. Howe, Dry Ridge, Kentucky.

JUDGES: BEFORE: LAMBERT, TAYLOR AND WINE, JUDGES. ALL CONCUR.

OPINION BY: WINE

OPINION

REVERSING AND REMANDING

WINE, JUDGE: Susan Davis (“Susan”), individually and as the Administratrix of the Estate of Charles A. Davis (“Charles”), deceased, appeals a summary judgment order entered by the Grant Circuit Court dismissing her claims against the Grant County Fair, Inc. (“GCF”), 3 Bar F Rodeo (“3-BFR”), Marcus Fannin (“M. Fannin”) and Bobby Ray Fannin (“B. Fannin”) (“Appellees” collectively) for the injuries and wrongful death of her husband, Charles, which occurred on September 25, 2004. Specifically, Susan argues the trial court erred by denying her motion for summary judgment based upon the Appellees’ alleged failure to give her husband the mandatory warning pursuant to KRS 247.4027, which resulted in Charles’s severe internal bodily injuries [*2] which ultimately led to his death. For the reasons stated herein, we remand this case as summary judgment was not appropriate.

Appellant, GCF, is a non-profit corporation whose primary function is to own, maintain, and operate the Grant County Fairgrounds. 3-BFR is an unincorporated association comprised of M. Fannin and B. Fannin. 3-BFR’s primary function is to conduct rodeo events for the general public. GCF entered into an agreement with 3-BFR, M. Fannin and B. Fannin whereby 3-BFR would hold a rodeo at the fairgrounds.

On September 25, 2004, Charles and Susan attended the rodeo at the Grant County Fair. The announcer for the rodeo, Aaron Platt (“Platt”), called for participants for a game called the “Ring of Fear.” This game called for audience members to participate by entering the rodeo ring and standing in marked circles on the ground. Kenny, a bull from Ohio, was then released into the ring. The last person standing, without stepping outside of the circle, won the grand prize of $ 50.00. Charles proceeded to the ring to try his luck in the Ring of Fear. Susan alleges Kenny was angered by someone jabbing him with a wooden object and beating sticks against his cage prior to his [*3] release. Once released, Kenny proceeded to drive his head into Charles’s abdomen, lifting him off the ground. Charles made his way back into the stands where his wife Susan was seated. Unknown to Charles or anyone else, Kenny’s blow to Charles’s abdomen had caused his liver to burst and he was bleeding internally. Charles faded into temporary unconsciousness next to his wife in the stands. Charles died the next morning at the University of Cincinnati’s trauma unit. The cause of death was ruled “blunt trauma to torso” and internal bleeding.

Susan then brought a wrongful death action against GCF, 3-BFR and the Fannins, alleging that their negligence had caused her husband’s death. GCF moved for summary judgment based upon a release signed by Charles prior to his participation in the Ring of Fear. 3-BFR, M. Fannin and B. Fannin filed similar motions. After completing more discovery and taking depositions, Susan filed a cross-motion for summary judgment, asserting that the Appellees failed to properly warn of the dangers of the Ring of Fear as required by KRS 247.4027. Susan alleged the Appellees’ failure to warn was a substantial factor in causing the injuries that led to her husband’s [*4] death. The trial court granted summary judgment to the Appellees, finding that the release was sufficient to exempt them from liability in light of Hargis v. Baize, 168 S.W.3d 36 (Ky. 2005). The trial court denied Susan’s cross-motion for summary judgment. This appeal followed.

[HN1] In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, a trial court must consider all the stipulations and admissions on file. CR 56.03. “[S]ummary judgment is proper only where the movant shows that the adverse party cannot prevail under any circumstances.” Steelvest, Inc. v. Scansteel Service Center, Inc., 807 S.W.2d 476, 480 (Ky. 1991), citing Paintsville Hospital Co. v. Rose, 683 S.W.2d 255 (Ky. 1985). The standard of review on appeal of a summary judgment is whether the trial court correctly found that there were no genuine issues as to any material fact and that the moving party was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Scifres v. Kraft, 916 S.W.2d 779, 43 1 Ky. L. Summary 17 (Ky.App. 1996). There is no requirement that the appellate court defer to the trial court because factual findings are not at issue. Goldsmith v. Allied Building Components, Inc., 833 S.W.2d 378, 381, 39 7 Ky. L. Summary 24 (Ky. 1992).

Susan argues the Appellees breached their duty to warn [*5] pursuant to the Farm Animals Activities Act (“FAAA”), found in KRS 247.401 through KRS 247.4029. Specifically, [HN2] the FAAA represents a statutory plan designed to outline the duties and responsibilities of both participants and sponsors conducting animal activities. Having thoroughly read the statute, we agree with Susan that the statute applies to this case. However, KRS 247.4027(2)(a) allows for a waiver of liability if the participant signs a release waiving his right to bring an action against the farm animal event sponsor.

Susan asserts that non-compliance with the warning requirements of KRS 247.401 constitutes negligence per se and/or strict liability. We disagree. KRS Chapter 247 is generally recognized throughout the country as “Equine Activity Statutes” (“EAS”). In general, these statutes are an attempt to limit liability of persons engaging in animal activities. Therefore, [HN3] if a sponsor of an animal activity does post the suggested warnings found in KRS Chapter 247, he is granted immunity from liability if someone gets hurt. If, as in this case, the warnings are not posted, the sponsor loses the immunity and may be held responsible for the injury in accordance with other applicable [*6] law. KRS 247.4013. Therefore, EAS statutes are “immunity statutes,” not negligence per se or strict liability statutes as recognized in many of our sister states. See Anderson v. Four Seasons Equestrian Center, Inc., 852 N.E.2d 576 (Ind. 2006); Amburgey v. Sauder, 238 Mich. App. 228, 605 N.W.2d 84 (Mich. App. 1999).

[HN4] Although KRS 247.402 requires farm animal activity sponsors to warn of the inherent risks, there is no duty to reduce or eliminate the inherent risks. However, to intentionally mistreat or aggravate a farm animal would be the antithesis of this duty.

While it is clear that the Appellees did not have warning signs posted at the ring entrance, it is undisputed that Charles signed a release just prior to his participation in the Ring of Fear. Therefore, the central issue in this case is the validity of the release Charles signed. The release Charles signed states as follows:

We the undersigned hereby request permission (1) to enter the restricted area (2) to participate as a contestant, assistant, official or otherwise rodeo events (3) to compete for money, prizes, recognition or reward.

In consideration of “permissive entry” into the restricted areas, which is the area from which admission to the [*7] general public is restricted, which includes, but is not limited to the rodeo arena, chutes, pens, adjacent walkways, concessions and other appurtenances, I undersigned, my personal representatives, heirs, next of kin, spouses and assigns to hereby:

1. I release, discharge and covenant not to sue the rodeo committee, stock contractor, sponsors, arena operators or owners and each of them, their officers, agents and employees all hereafter collectively referred to as (Releases) from any and all claims and liability arising out of strict liability or ordinary negligence of Releases or any other participant which causes the undersigned injury, death, damages or property damage. I, the undersigned, jointly, severally, and in common, covenant to hold releases from any claim, judgment or expenses that may incur arising out of my activities or presence in the restricted area.

2. Understand that entry into the restricted area and/or participation in rodeo events contains danger and risks of injury or death, that conditions of the rodeo arena change from time to time and may become more hazardous, that rodeo animals are dangerous and unpredictable, and that there inherent danger in rodeo which [*8] I appreciate and voluntarily assume because I chose to do so. Each of the undersigned has observed events of this type and that I seek to participate in. I further understand that the arena surface, access ways or lack thereof, lighting or lack thereof, and weather conditions all change and pose a danger. I further understand that other contestants and participants pose a danger, but nevertheless, I voluntarily elect to accept all risks connected with the entry into restricted areas and/or participate in any rodeo events.

3. I agree that this agreement shall apply to any incident, injury, and accident death occurring on the above date and fore (sic) a period of one (1) year thereafter. All subsequent agreement and release documents signed by any of the undersigned shall amplify, shall in no way limit the provisions of the document.

4. I the undersigned agree to indemnify the Releases and each of them from loss, liability damage or costs they may incur due to the presence or participation in the described activities whether caused by the negligence of the Releases or otherwise.

WE HAVE READ THIS DOCUMENT, WE UNDERSTAND IT IS A RELEASE OF ALL CLAIMS, WE APPRECIATE AND ASSUME ALL RISKS INHERENT IN RODEO. [*9]

Charles’s signature appears below this language along with the signatures of the other participants of the Ring of Fear on September 25, 2004.

[HN5] While agreements to exempt future liability for either ordinary or gross negligence are not invalid per se, they are generally disfavored and are strictly construed against the parties relying upon them. Hargis, 168 S.W.3d at 47.

[A] preinjury release will be upheld only if (1) it explicitly expresses an intention to exonerate by using the word “negligence;” or (2) it clearly and specifically indicates an intent to release a party from liability for a personal injury caused by that party’s own conduct; or (3) protection against negligence is the only reasonable construction of the contract language; or (4) the hazard experienced was clearly within the contemplation of the provision.

Id., citing 57A AM. JUR. 2d, Negligence § 53 (citations omitted). The trial court held that the release met the above requirements in Hargis and, absent genuine issues of fact as to the release, its enforceability warranted summary judgment in favor of Appellees.

We disagree with the trial court that the release form signed by Charles satisfies all of the [*10] factors in Hargis. The release uses the word “negligence.” The release does specifically and explicitly release the Appellees from liability for “any and all claims and liability arising out of strict liability or ordinary negligence of Releases [Appellees] . . . which causes the undersigned [Charles] injury . . . [or] death . . . .”

The language of the release is specific as to its purpose to exonerate the sponsors from ordinary negligence liability. The release specifically warns that rodeo events contain danger and risks of injury or death; that the conditions of the rodeo arena change and may become more hazardous; that rodeo animals are dangerous and unpredictable; and finally that anyone choosing to participate voluntarily assumes the inherent danger that exists in rodeo events. However, there is no language that releases Appellees from conduct that would constitute gross negligence. Susan contends that Appellees provoked Kenny by prodding him and beating on his cage prior to his release into the ring. The intentional provocation of the bull by Appellees to attack the participants is clearly not contemplated by the release. While the Appellees dispute the allegations of intentionally [*11] mistreating Kenny, if true, it would at the very least constitute gross negligence. The release contemplates getting into the ring with a bull and even mentions that rodeo animals are unpredictable. However, the release does not contemplate a bull that has been infuriated by the Appellees prior to its release into the ring. Such conduct could be construed as willful or wanton for which a party may not contract away any liability through a release. Hargis, supra. This material issue of fact as disputed by the parties can only be resolved by a trier of fact and is not appropriately resolved by summary judgment. If the jury determines that Appellees’ conduct was grossly negligent, the release would be unenforceable as to this conduct. Of course, under comparative negligence, the jury could also consider Charles’s own conduct in contributing to his death.

Susan also argues that the trial court was presented with a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the Appellees offered her husband protective chest gear. M. Fannin testified that the participants in the Ring of Fear on the date in question were given an opportunity to put on a protective vest before entering the rodeo ring. Conversely, [*12] Rob Wells (“Wells”), who participated on the same day as Charles, submitted an affidavit indicating that he was never offered a protective vest nor did he observe that there were protective vests available. Susan further submits that Appellees should have inquired as to the abilities of the participants to participate in the Ring of Fear. Finally, Susan contends that Charles did not have an opportunity to read the release prior to signing it. In support of this contention, Susan relies on the affidavit of Wells wherein he indicates that he did not read the release. These are all factual issues to be resolved by a trier of fact.

Accordingly, we reverse and remand this case to the Grant Circuit Court for a jury trial.

ALL CONCUR.

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Four releases signed and all of them thrown out because they lacked one simple sentence!

Releases have to be written correctly and they have to be written in conjunction with all of the possible defendants to a suit.

This is a sad case stemming from the death of young man who had traveled from Ohio

Photograph of girls performing synchronized tr...

Photograph of girls performing synchronized trampoline at WAGC in Quebec November 2007. Trampqueen 21:52, 15 November 2007 (UTC) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

to Tennessee to participate in a gymnastic event, the John Macready Flip Fest Invitational in Knoxville. The deceased was an experienced participant on the trampoline. During the event, he fell off the trampoline hitting the concrete floor with his head.

His parents sued the organizer of the event, Top Flight Gymnastics, the sanctioning organizations, USA Gymnastics (USAG) and the United States Gymnastics Federation (USGF). These three defendants, Top Flight, USAG and USGF as well as the booster club for Top Flight had releases that were signed by the deceased and or his mother or father.
The deceased mother stated she signed the release for the event in Kentucky. (No explanation was given why she signed the release in Kentucky.) The USGF and USAG releases were part of membership applications and probably signed in Ohio. It was not stated where the Top Flight release was signed.
The deceased and the plaintiffs lived in Ohio. USAG and USGF were based in Indiana but sanctioned events all over the US. Top Flight was located in Tennessee where the accident occurred.
The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the release should be reviewed under Ohio’s law. The reason for this is because Ohio upholds a release signed by a parent. (See States that allow a Parent to Sign away a Minor’s right to sue.) The court fist had to determine what law applied, Ohio or Tennessee. No one was arguing for Kentucky or Indiana. Neither of those states allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.
The plaintiffs sued for negligence “in that they sanctioned an event which failed to provide a safe environment, utilized untrained spotters, failed to ensure sufficient floor matting, failed to require experienced and trained spotters, and failed to require sufficient safety matting.”

Summary of the case

This case was brought in Federal District Court as a diversity case. That means that one or more of the parties is located outside of the state of where the lawsuit is filed and the amount being asked for is in excess of $75,000.  
The Federal Court had to decide which law would be applied to the case. This is called a “Choice of Laws” issue, meaning the court has to decide which state law will be used to decide the case. Step one in this decision, is to decide which states have a relationship with the lawsuit. How that decision is made is based on the law of the state where the court is. The case was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, so Tennessee’s law was used to decide which state law would be used to the Choice of Law question which then would be used to decide which state law would be applied to the case.
In Tennessee, the test to decide which state law is to be applied is the “the most significant relationship” test.
In an action for wrongful death, the local law of the state where the injury occurred determines the rights and liabilities of the parties unless, with respect to the particular issue, some other state has a more significant relationship under the principles stated in § 6 to the occurrence and the parties, to which event the local law of the other state will be applied.
The court ruled that because the accident occurred in Tennessee, Tennessee had the most significant relationship to the case. The court applied the four-part Tennessee test to make that decision. The court looked at the following questions to determine what state law would be applied:
(1) the place where the injury occurred,
(2) the place where the conduct causing the injury occurred,
(3) the domicile, residence, nationality, place of incorporation and place of business of the parties, and
(4) the place where the relationship, if any, between the parties is centered.
Tennessee was where the injury occurred, the place where the conduct causing the injury occurred. Tennessee “was the only mutual and central contact these parties had with one another.”
The court then looked at Tennessee’s law concerning releases and held all four releases void. Tennessee does not recognize a parent’s right to sign away a minor’s right to sue. Childress v. Madison County, 777 S.W.2d 1 (Tenn.App. 1989). The decision, on what state law to apply, decided the real legal issue in one sentence.
Of the four states in question, Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, only if the choice of a law’s question had found Ohio, the place where two releases had been signed, would the case end. Simply put, the case would have ended if the court could have applied Ohio’s law to the facts.
The court then took on an interesting turn. The court stated, on its own, that the release also failed because the allegations of the complaint pleaded intentional conduct recklessness or gross negligence. Under Tennessee law gross negligence and reckless conduct are not protected by a release. The court then said, “defendants’ failure to provide a safe environment, failure to utilize trained spotters, and failure to ensure sufficient safety matting, all constitute gross negligence and reckless conduct.”
Rarely do courts look at the facts and then develop claims or defenses for one side or the other. Here, the court did just that. The court created additional claims for the plaintiff. Nowhere else in the decision did the court allude to allegations on the part of the plaintiffs whom any of the defendants acted a grossly negligent way.

So Now What?

I’ve written about it several times before about jurisdiction and venue. See A Recent Colorado Supreme Court Decision lowers the requirements to be brought into the state to defend a lawsuit, The legal relationship created between manufactures and US consumers and Shark Feeding Death triggers debate. Jurisdiction is the term applied to the law that is to be applied to the case. This case is a legal argument over jurisdiction. Venue is the legal term used to describe where, what city and state the court that hears the case will be.
Releases must first have the correct language to make the release effective in barring claims and lawsuits. It must have a well written negligence clause.
However, if your release does not have a jurisdiction and venue clause, just like this case, your release is worthless a lot of the time. If anyone can change the venue to another state, and/or change the jurisdiction to another state you have just wasted paper.
As I repeat over and over again.
1.      Your release must be written by an attorney who is familiar with your activities and the law concerning releases.
2.    Your release must have a well written negligence clause. It must, according to the state law of the jurisdiction you decide, meet the requirements to be upheld.
3.    Your release must have a jurisdiction and venue clause. Period!
If you wrote your release I now it fails the first and second parts of the test. I suspect even if an attorney wrote your release, it might fail the third part of the test.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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