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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New Jersey does not allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue so a binding arbitration agreement is a good idea, if it is written correctly.

The arbitration agreement in this case did not state how long the agreement was valid for, so the court held it was only valid for the day it was signed.

Citation: Weed v. Sky NJ, LLC., 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 410, 2018 WL 1004206

State: New Jersey: Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

Plaintiff: Lorianne Weed and Scott Trefero as parents and natural guardians of A.M., a minor,

Defendant: Sky NJ, LLC a/k/a and/or d/b/a Skyzone Moorestown and/or a/k/a and/or d/b/a Skyzone and David R. Agger

Plaintiff Claims: Contract failed to compel arbitration

Defendant Defenses: Arbitration

Holding: For the Plaintiff

Year: 2018

Summary

When a parent cannot sign a release for a minor, because the states don’t enforce them, one option may be a binding arbitration agreement. Arbitration usually does not allow massive damages, is cheaper and quicker than going to trial.

However, your arbitration agreement, like a release, must be written in a way to make sure it is effective. This one was not, and the plaintiff can proceed to trial.

Facts

Plaintiff visited the trampoline facility in July 2016. Entrance to the park is conditioned on all participants signing a “Conditional Access Agreement, Pre-Injury Waiver of Liability, and Agreement to Indemnity, Waiver of Trial, and Agreement to Arbitrate” (the Agreement). Weed executed the agreement on behalf of her son in July 2016.

Plaintiff returned to the facility with a friend in November 2016, and was injured while using the trampolines during a “Glow” event, which plaintiff submits used different and less lighting than was present at his earlier visit. Plaintiff entered the facility in November with an agreement signed by his friend’s mother on behalf of both her daughter and A.M.[2] In an affidavit submitted by Weed in opposition to the motion, she stated that she was unaware that her son was going to the facility at the time of the November visit.

After Weed filed suit on behalf of her son, defendants moved to compel arbitration pursuant to the agreement. Defendants argued that the agreements contained “straightforward, clear, and unequivocal” language that a participant was waiving their right to present claims before a jury in exchange for conditional access to the facility. They asserted that the first agreement signed by Weed remained in effect at the time of plaintiff’s subsequent visit in November as there was no indication that it was only valid for the one day of entry in July. Finally, defendants contended that any dispute as to a term of the agreement should be resolved in arbitration.

Plaintiff opposed the motion, asserting that nothing in the first agreement alerted Weed that it would remain in effect for either a certain or an indefinite period of time. To the contrary, defendants’ policy of requiring a new agreement to be signed each time a participant entered the park belied its argument that a prior agreement remained valid for a period of time.

On May 19, 2017, Judge Joseph L. Marczyk conducted oral argument and denied the motion in an oral decision issued the same day. The judge determined that the first agreement did not apply to the November visit because it did not contain any language that it would remain valid and applicable to all future visits. Therefore, there was no notice to the signor of the agreement that it would be in effect beyond that specific day of entry, and no “meeting of the minds” that the waiver and agreement to arbitrate pertained to all claims for any future injury.

As for the second agreement, the judge found that there was no precedent to support defendants’ contention that an unrelated person could bind plaintiff to an arbitration clause. This appeal followed.

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

In a state where there are no defenses except assumption of the risk for claims by minor’s arbitration can be a good way to speed up the process and limit damages. Each state has laws that encourage arbitration and, in most cases, create limits on what an arbitration panel (the people hearing the case) can award in damages. In man states, arbitration judges cannot award punitive damages.

You need to check your state laws on what if any benefits arbitration provides.

However, if you can use a release, the release is the best way to go because it cuts off all damages. Many times, in arbitration damages are awarded, they are just less.

To determine which states do not allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue see States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

The best way of dealing with minor claims is the defense of assumption of the risk. However, this takes more time on the front end in making sure the minor participants understand the risk before embarking on the activity.

There were two issues before the appellate court: Whether the first agreement signed by the mother of the injured plaintiff extended beyond the day it was signed. The second issue was whether a second agreement signed by a friend, not a parent, legal guardian or someone acting under a power of attorney had any legal validity.

The first agreement was silent as to how long it was valid. There was no termination date, (which is a good thing) and nothing to indicate the agreement was good for a day or a lifetime. Because the contract was blank as to when the agreement was valid, the court ruled against the creator of the contract.

There is no evidence in the record before us to support defendants’ argument as the agreements are silent as to any period of validity. Defendants drafted these agreements and required a signature from all participants waiving certain claims and requiring submission to arbitration prior to permitting access to the facility. Any ambiguity in the contract must be construed against defendants.

When a contract is written any issues are held against the writer of the agreement. Here because the contract had no end date or did not say it was good forever, there was a gap in the agreement that was held against the defendant as the writer of the agreement.

So, the court ruled the agreement signed by the mother was only valid on the day it was signed and was not valid the second time when the minor came in and was injured.

The second argument made by the defendant was the friend who signed for the minor on the second visit signed an agreement that should be enforced and compel arbitration.

The court laughed that one out the door.

We further find that defendants’ argument regarding the November agreement lacks merit. The signor of that agreement was neither a parent, a legal guardian, nor the holder of a power of attorney needed to bind the minor plaintiff to the arbitration agreement. Defendants’ reliance on Hojnowski v. Vans Skate Park, is misplaced. While the Court found that a parent had the authority to waive their own child’s rights under an arbitration agreement in Hojnowski, there is no suggestion that such authority would extend to a non-legal guardian. Not only would such a holding bind the minor to an arbitration agreement, it would also serve to bind the minor’s parents, waiving their rights to bring a claim on behalf of their child. We decline to so hold.

So Now What?

New Jersey law is quite clear. A parent cannot sign away a minor’s right to sue, Hojnowski v. Vans Skate Park. Consequently, arbitration was probably the way to go. In this case, one little slip up made the arbitration agreement worthless.

The one flaw in using an arbitration agreement is you could use a release to stop the claims for a parent. So, you should write a release that stops the claims of the parents/legal guardians and compels arbitration of the minor’s claims. Those get tricky.

And as far as another adult signing for a minor who is not their child, that is always a problem. A parent can sign for a minor, to some extent, and a spouse can sign for another spouse in certain situations. An officer of a corporation or a manager of a limited liability company can sign for the corporation or company. The trustee can sign for a trust, and any partner can sign for a partnership. But only you can sign for you.

The issue that outdoor businesses see all day long is a volunteer youth leader take groups of kids to parks, amusement rides and climbing walls, etc. Neighbors take the neighborhood kids to the zoo, and friends grab their kids’ friends to take on vacation. Unless the adult has a power of attorney saying they have the right to enter agreements on behalf of the minor child, their signature only has value if they are a celebrity or sports personality.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2019 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FB, Twitter or LinkedIn

If you are interested in having me write your release, fill out this Information Form and Contract and send it to me.

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

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Email: Jim@Rec-Law.US

By Recreation Law    Rec-law@recreation-law.com    James H. Moss

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #SkiLaw,


Weed v. Sky NJ, LLC., 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 410, 2018 WL 1004206

Weed v. Sky NJ, LLC., 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 410, 2018 WL 1004206

Lorianne Weed and Scott Trefero as parents and natural guardians of A.M., a minor, Plaintiffs-Respondents, v. Sky NJ, LLC a/k/a and/or d/b/a Skyzone Moorestown and/or a/k/a and/or d/b/a Skyzone and David R. Agger, Defendants-Appellants.

No. A-4589-16T1

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

February 22, 2018

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued January 18, 2018

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Docket No. L-2790-16.

Marco P. DiFlorio argued the cause for appellants (Salmon, Ricchezza, Singer & Turchi LLP, attorneys; Joseph A. Ricchezza and Marco P. DiFlorio, on the briefs).

Iddo Harel argued the cause for respondents (Ross Feller Casey, LLP, attorneys; Joel J. Feller and Iddo Harel, on the brief).

Before Judges Currier and Geiger.

PER CURIAM

Defendants Sky NJ, LLC a/k/a/ Sky Zone Moorestown and David Agger (defendants) appeal from the May 19, 2017 order denying their motion to compel arbitration in this personal injury suit brought by plaintiffs after A.M.[1] suffered severe injuries while jumping on a trampoline at defendants’ facility. After a review of the presented arguments in light of the record before us and applicable principles of law, we affirm.

Plaintiff visited the trampoline facility in July 2016. Entrance to the park is conditioned on all participants signing a “Conditional Access Agreement, Pre-Injury Waiver of Liability, and Agreement to Indemnity, Waiver of Trial, and Agreement to Arbitrate” (the Agreement). Weed executed the agreement on behalf of her son in July 2016.

Plaintiff returned to the facility with a friend in November 2016, and was injured while using the trampolines during a “Glow” event, which plaintiff submits used different and less lighting than was present at his earlier visit. Plaintiff entered the facility in November with an agreement signed by his friend’s mother on behalf of both her daughter and A.M.[2] In an affidavit submitted by Weed in opposition to the motion, she stated that she was unaware that her son was going to the facility at the time of the November visit.

Both agreements required the submission of all claims to binding arbitration and contained the following pertinent language:

I understand that this Agreement waives certain rights that I have in exchange for permission to gain access to the [l]ocation. I agree and acknowledge that the rights I am waiving in exchange for permission to gain access to the [l]ocation include but may not be limited to the following:

a. the right to sue [defendants] in a court of law;

b. the right to a trial by judge or jury;

c. the right to claim money from [defendants] for accidents causing injury within the scope of the risk assumed by myself;

d. the right to claim money from [defendants] for accidents causing injury unless [defendants] committed acts of gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct; and

e. the right to file a claim against [defendants] if I wait more than one year from . . . the date of this Agreement.

Waiver of Trial, and Agreement to Arbitrate

IF I AM INJURED AND WANT TO MAKE A CLAIM AND/OR IF THERE ARE ANY DISPUTES REGARDING THIS AGREEMENT, I HEREBY WAIVE ANY RIGHT I HAVE TO A TRIAL IN A COURT OF LAW BEFORE A JUDGE AND JURY. I AGREE THAT SUCH DISPUTE SHALL BE BROUGHT WITHIN ONE YEAR OF THE DATE OF THIS AGREEMENT AND WILL BE DETERMINED BY BINDING ARBITRATION BEFORE ONE ARBITRATOR TO BE ADMINISTERED BY JAMS[3] PURSUANT TO ITS COMPREHENSIVE ARBITRATIONRULES AND PROCEDURES.I further agree that the arbitration will take place solely in the state of New Jersey and that the substantive law of New Jersey shall apply. I acknowledge that if I want to make a claim against [defendants], I must file a demand before JAMS. … To the extent that any claim I have against [defendants] has not been released or waived by this Agreement, I acknowledge that I have agreed that my sole remedy is to arbitrat[e] such claim, and that such claim may only be brought against [defendants] in accordance with the above Waiver of Trial and Agreement to Arbitrate.

After Weed filed suit on behalf of her son, defendants moved to compel arbitration pursuant to the agreement. Defendants argued that the agreements contained “straightforward, clear, and unequivocal” language that a participant was waiving their right to present claims before a jury in exchange for conditional access to the facility. They asserted that the first agreement signed by Weed remained in effect at the time of plaintiff’s subsequent visit in November as there was no indication that it was only valid for the one day of entry in July. Finally, defendants contended that any dispute as to a term of the agreement should be resolved in arbitration.

Plaintiff opposed the motion, asserting that nothing in the first agreement alerted Weed that it would remain in effect for either a certain or an indefinite period of time. To the contrary, defendants’ policy of requiring a new agreement to be signed each time a participant entered the park belied its argument that a prior agreement remained valid for a period of time.

On May 19, 2017, Judge Joseph L. Marczyk conducted oral argument and denied the motion in an oral decision issued the same day. The judge determined that the first agreement did not apply to the November visit because it did not contain any language that it would remain valid and applicable to all future visits. Therefore, there was no notice to the signor of the agreement that it would be in effect beyond that specific day of entry, and no “meeting of the minds” that the waiver and agreement to arbitrate pertained to all claims for any future injury.

As for the second agreement, the judge found that there was no precedent to support defendants’ contention that an unrelated person could bind plaintiff to an arbitration clause. This appeal followed.

“[O]rders compelling or denying arbitration are deemed final and appealable as of right as of the date entered.” GMAC v. Pittella, 205 N.J. 572, 587 (2011). We review the judge’s decision to compel arbitration de novo. Frumer v. Nat’1 Home Ins. Co., 420 N.J.Super. 7, 13 (App. Div. 2011). The question of whether an arbitration clause is enforceable is an issue of law, which we also review de novo. Atalese v. U.S. Legal Servs. Group, L.P., 219 N.J. 430, 445-46 (2014). We owe no deference to the trial court’s “interpretation of the law and the legal consequences that flow from established facts.” Manalapan Realty v. Twp. Comm., 140 N.J. 366, 378 (1995).

Defendants argue that the trial court erred when it determined that the first arbitration agreement signed by Weed four months before plaintiff’s injury was no longer binding on the parties at the time of plaintiff’s injury. We disagree.

While we are mindful that arbitration is a favored means of dispute resolution in New Jersey, the threshold issue before us is whether Weed’s signature on the July agreement would be binding on plaintiff for all subsequent visits. We apply well-established contract principles, and ascertain the parties’ intent from a consideration of all of the surrounding circumstances. James Talcott, Inc. v. H. Corenzwit & Co., 76 N.J. 305, 312 (1978). “An agreement must be construed in the context of the circumstances under which it was entered into and it must be accorded a rational meaning in keeping with the express general purpose.” Tessmar v. Grosner, 23 N.J. 193, 201 (1957).

It is undisputed that neither agreement contains any reference to a term of validity. The parties submitted conflicting affidavits in support of their respective positions. Weed stated there was nothing in the agreement she signed to apprise a participant that the agreement was in effect for longer than the day of entry. Defendants contend that plaintiff did not need a second agreement signed for the November visit as the initial agreement remained in effect.

There is no evidence in the record before us to support defendants’ argument as the agreements are silent as to any period of validity. Defendants drafted these agreements and required a signature from all participants waiving certain claims and requiring submission to arbitration prior to permitting access to the facility. Any ambiguity in the contract must be construed against defendants. See Moscowitz v. Middlesex Borough Bldq. & Luan Ass’n, 14 N.J.Super. 515, 522 (App. Div. 1951) (holding that where a contract is ambiguous, it will be construed against the drafting party). We are satisfied that Judge Marczyk’s ruling declining enforcement of the July agreement was supported by the credible evidence in the record.

We further find that defendants’ argument regarding the November agreement lacks merit. The signor of that agreement was neither a parent, a legal guardian, nor the holder of a power of attorney needed to bind the minor plaintiff to the arbitration agreement. Defendants’ reliance on Hojnowski v. Vans Skate Park, 187 N.J. 323, 346 (2006) is misplaced. While the Court found that a parent had the authority to waive their own child’s rights under an arbitration agreement in Hojnowski, there is no suggestion that such authority would extend to a non-legal guardian. Not only would such a holding bind the minor to an arbitration agreement, it would also serve to bind the minor’s parents, waiving their rights to bring a claim on behalf of their child. We decline to so hold. See Moore v. Woman to Woman Obstetrics & Gynecology, LLC, 416 N.J.Super. 30, 45 (App. Div. 2010) (holding there is no legal theory that would permit one spouse to bind another to an agreement waiving the right to trial without securing consent to the agreement).

As we have concluded the threshold issue that neither the July nor the November agreement is enforceable as to the minor plaintiff, we do not reach the issue of whether the arbitration provision contained within the agreement accords with our legal standards and case law. Judge Marczyk’s denial of defendants’ motion to compel arbitration was supported by the evidence in the record.

Affirmed.

Notes:

[1] Lorianne Weed is A.M.’s mother. Because A.M. is a minor, we use initials in respect of his privacy and we refer to him hereafter as plaintiff.

[2] The agreement required the adult to “certify that [she was] the parent or legal guardian of the child(ren) listed [on the agreement] or that [she had] been granted power of attorney to sign [the] Agreement on behalf of the parent or legal guardian of the child(ren) listed.” There were no proofs presented that the adult met any of these requirements.

[3] JAMS is an organization that provides alternative dispute resolution services, including mediation and arbitration.

 


Connecticut court determines that a release will not bar a negligent claim created by statute.

Statute requires ski area to mark equipment on the slope. The ski area argued the release protected them from negligence claims based on the statute, and the court disagreed.

Laliberte v. White Water Mountain Resorts, 2004 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2194

State: Connecticut, Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Tolland, Complex Litigation Docket at Rockville

Plaintiff: Alexandra Laliberte

Defendant: White Water Mountain Resorts

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: Connecticut Skier Safety Act & release

Holding: for the plaintiff

Year: 2004

The plaintiff was skiing as part of a high school varsity ski team. She hit a snow making device which was inadequately identified and placed on the trail according to the plaintiff.

The defendant moved for summary judgment based on the Connecticut Skier Safety Act and a release the plaintiff had signed to participate on the ski team.

The release had been signed when the plaintiff was a minor, however, she did not rescind the release when she became an adult.

As noted above, the plaintiffs concede that the release was signed by the plaintiffs knowingly and willingly. Also, the plaintiffs make no attack on the efficacy of the waiver because Ms. Laliberte was a minor at the time of its execution.

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

The first argument was whether the Connecticut Skier Safety Act shielded the defendant from liability. The act requires the ski area operator to mark conspicuously the location of snow making equipment.

Sec. 29-211.  (Formerly Sec. 19-418k). Duties of operator of passenger tramway or ski area.

In the operation of a passenger tramway or ski area, each operator shall have the obligation to perform certain duties including, but not limited to: (1) Conspicuously marking all trail maintenance vehicles and furnishing the vehicles with flashing or rotating lights which shall be operated whenever the vehicles are working or moving within the skiing area; (2) conspicuously marking the entrance to each trail or slope with a symbol, adopted or approved by the National Ski Areas Association, which identifies the relative degree of difficulty of such trail or slope or warns that such trail or slope is closed; (3) ensuring that any lift tower that is located on a trail or slope is padded or otherwise protected; (4) maintaining one or more trail boards, at prominent locations within the ski area, displaying such area’s network of ski trails and slopes, designating each trail or slope in the same manner as provided in subdivision (2) of this section and notifying each skier that the wearing of ski retention straps or other devices used to prevent runaway skis is required by section 29-213, as amended by this act; (5) in the event maintenance personnel or equipment are being employed on any trail or slope during the hours at which such trail or slope is open to the public, conspicuously posting notice thereof at the entrance to such trail or slope; (6) conspicuously marking trail or slope intersections; (7) ensuring that passenger tramways, as defined in subparagraph (D) of subdivision (1) of section 29-201, as amended by this act, are equipped with restraint devices; (8) at the entrance of a passenger tramway, as defined in subparagraph (D) of subdivision (1) of section 29-201, as amended by this act, conspicuously posting instructions regarding the proper use of a restraint device on such passenger tramway and notice that the use of a restraint device on such passenger tramway is required by section 29-213, as amended by this act; and (9) ensuring that any hydrant, snow-making equipment and pipes that are located within the borders of a designated slope, trail or area that is approved and open for skiing by the operator and regularly groomed as part of the operator’s normal maintenance activities are padded or marked by portable fencing or a similar device.

Emphasize (bold) added

The plaintiff’s argued it was not marked. The ski area argued that the snow making device was not located on a ski trail or slope. Consequently, the court held that because there was a factual dispute, this matter had to go to trial.

The next issue was whether the release stopped claims created or based upon the statute. Normally, these claims are called negligence per se claims. (See Instructional Colorado decision Negligence, Negligence Per Se and Premises Liability or Motion for Summary Judgement failed because the plaintiff’s claim was based upon a failure to follow a statute or rule creating a negligence per se defense to the release in this Pennsylvania sailing case for more on Negligence Per Se claims.) Negligence per se claims are negligence claims based on a statute or rule created to protect people. Normally, releases do not work against negligence per se claims. That wording or pleading in describing the claim was not used in this case.

The parties agreed that the release itself was valid. The issue was what the release applied to.

“The interpretation of an exculpatory contract is colored by two diametrically opposed legal principles: the first, that it is against public policy to contract away one’s liability for negligent acts in advance and the second, that the court will enforce agreements of the parties made with consideration.”

Squarely presented, however, is the issue of whether a preinjury release is enforceable to relieve the defendant of civil liability for an alleged negligent violation of a statutorily created duty with respect to the operation of a recreational facility.

The court first looked at the Connecticut Skier Safety Act and found the act was silent on the effect of a release. The court then reviewed other Connecticut cases and decisions from other states where a release was raised as a defense to a negligence claim based upon a statute. Generally, the court found “… the statute created a public duty which the tenant had no power to extinguish. Private parties cannot “suspend the law by waiver or express consent.” Quoting from another case the court found ““parties may not stipulate for protection against liability for negligence in the performance of a duty imposed by law or where public interest requires performance.”

The court found two bases for invalidating releases when argued to bar claims like this.

These cases invalidating preinjury waivers where the basis of liability is a violation of a statute appear to be based either on a presumption that such releases are against public policy or on the legal inability of the releasor to waive a duty which protects the public or a class of persons of which the releasor is only one member.

Here the court found using a release to avoid liability for a statutory duty would allow defendants to have free reign to ignore the statute.

If liability for breach of statutory duty may be waived preinjury, the operator of a recreational facility could design, construct, and run a facility in total disregard of the legislatively prescribed rules with impunity, as to civil damages, simply by restricting use of the facility to those patrons willing to sign a release. In other words, the operator could repeal the protection of the legislatively selected class member by member.

The motion for summary judgment was denied and the case set for trial.

So Now What?

This result is probably the result you will find in all cases where the release is raised as a defense to a statutory duty. The only way to avoid this is to have the statute that creates the duty, include a clause that states the release is still valid.

Similar arguments are used by courts when they have determined that a statute that may have statutory duties and also has statutory protections eliminates the use of a release in full. Meaning the statute provided the protection the legislature wanted, that is all you get. Hawaii did this (Hawaii attempts to limit liability increases the amount of money every injured party will recover. Legislation to limit liability lost recreation business the opportunity to use a release) and New Mexico in Berlangieri v. Running Elk Corporation, 132 N.M. 332; 2002 NMCA 60; 48, P.3d 70; 2002 N.M. App. 39; 41 N.M. St. B. Bull. 25.

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Laliberte v. White Water Mountain Resorts, 2004 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2194

Laliberte v. White Water Mountain Resorts, 2004 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2194

Alexandra Laliberte v. White Water Mountain Resorts

X07CV030083300S

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Tolland, Complex Litigation Docket at Rockville

2004 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2194

August 2, 2004, Decided

August 2, 2004, Filed

Notice: [*1]  This decision is unreported and may be subject to further appellate review. Counsel is cautioned to make an independent determination of the status of this case.

Judges: Sferrazza, J.

Opinion By: Sferrazza

Opinion: Memorandum of Decision

The defendant, White Water Mountain Resorts, Inc., moves for summary judgment as to all counts in this action filed by the plaintiff Suzanne Bull, individually and as next friend of her daughter, Alexandra Laliberte. The plaintiffs’ complaint alleges that the defendant, a ski area operator, negligently failed to mark a snow-making device conspicuously so as to comply with General Statutes § 29-211.

The movant contends that judgment ought to enter in its favor because General Statutes § 29-212 exempts the defendant from liability and because the plaintiffs executed a valid waiver of liability. The plaintiffs argue that a genuine factual dispute exists which puts into doubt the applicability of § 29-212 and that the plaintiffs had no power to waive liability for any statutory obligation imposed by § 29-211.

Summary judgment shall be granted if the pleadings and documentary proof submitted demonstrate that [*2] no genuine dispute as to material fact exists and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Practice Book § 17-49.

It is undisputed that on January 13, 2003, Alexandra Laliberte sustained serious injury to her left leg while engaged in ski practice, as a member of the Glastonbury High School varsity ski team, while at the defendant’s ski area. The plaintiffs’ complaint avers that this injury was caused when Laliberte struck a snow-making machine which was inadequately identified and which was positioned upon a portion of a ski trail or slope.

On November 14, 2002, the plaintiffs knowingly and voluntarily signed an anticipatory release of liability absolving the defendant from any claims by the plaintiffs resulting from participation in the ski team practices or events at the defendant’s ski facility, even if such “injury is caused by the negligence” of the defendant. It is uncontroverted that, if this waiver is enforceable, it would exonerate the defendant from the liability on the plaintiffs’ claims.

I

The court first addresses the movant’s contention that § 29-212 exempts the defendant from liability. Section 29-212 must be examined in conjunction with [*3] § 29-211 because these related provisions “form a consistent, rational whole.” Jagger v. Mohawk Mountain Ski Area, 269 Conn. 672, 681, 849 A.2d 813 (2004). These statutes were enacted to delineate the respective responsibilities of the skier and the ski area operator. Id., 682. Section 29-212 enumerates a nonexhaustive list of risks inherent in the sport of skiing for which ski area operators bear no responsibility if injury ensues. Id. Section 29-211, on the other hand, imposes specified duties upon ski area operators. Id., 681.

Subsection 29-211(2) obligates the operator to mark conspicuously the location of snow- making devices that are placed on a trail or slope. A review of the pleadings and documents submitted discloses that a genuine factual dispute exists as to whether the particular device which Laliberte struck was sited on a ski trail or slope. Consequently, summary judgment is unavailable on this ground.

II

The enforceability of the preinjury release poses a more difficult question.

“The interpretation of an exculpatory contract is colored by two diametrically opposed legal principles: the first, that it is [*4] against public policy to contract away one’s liability for negligent acts in advance and the second, that the court will enforce agreements of the parties made with consideration.” Fischer v. Rivest, Superior Court, New Britain J.D. Complex Litigation, dn. X05-CV00-509627, 33 Conn. L. Rptr. 119 (August 15, 2002), Aurigemma, J.

As noted above, the plaintiffs concede that the release was signed by the plaintiffs knowingly and willingly. Also, the plaintiffs make no attack on the efficacy of the waiver because Ms. Laliberte was a minor at the time of its execution. Squarely presented, however, is the issue of whether a preinjury release is enforceable to relieve the defendant of civil liability for an alleged negligent violation of a statutorily created duty with respect to the operation of a recreational facility.

The statutes regarding skiing and ski area operations, General Statutes §§ 29-211 though 29-214 are silent as to whether waiver of the duties imposed on ski area operators are permitted or forbidden.

In Hyson v. White Water Mountain Resorts, 265 Conn. 636, 829 A.2d 827 (2003), our Supreme Court held that a preinjury waiver [*5] which omitted express reference to negligence was insufficient to absolve the ski area operator, the same defendant as in the present case, from liability for negligence. Id., 643.

The majority explicitly stated that its decision ventured no opinion regarding the viability of an anticipatory release should it include the missing language.

Id., 640 and 643, fn. 11. Despite this disclaimer, the Hyson case, supra, does provide some guidance bearing on the issue before this court because the majority reiterated the proposition that a preinjury release from liability for negligent acts “is scrutinized with particular care.” Id., 642.

The two dissenting justices in Hyson, supra, indicated that such preinjury releases are valid despite the absence of the use of a form of the word negligence expressly. Id., 649. Implicit in the dissenters’ position is that such waiver is possible as to violations of the duties imposed by § 29-211.

While a plausible argument can be made that this implication supports the movant ‘s contention, this Court is reluctant to harvest precedential value on this issue from that dissent [*6] because the precise claim of unenforceability raised in the present case was never raised in Hyson, supra.

In L’Heureux v. Hurley, 117 Conn. 347, 168 A. 8 (1933), the Supreme Court ruled that where a statute compels a landlord to illuminate a common stairwell, a tenant cannot waive that burden and could, indeed, sue the landlord for injury caused by that statutory violation. Id., 355-56. The Supreme Court determined that the statute created a public duty which the tenant had no power to extinguish. Id. Private parties cannot “suspend the law by waiver or express consent.” Id., 357. Of course, L’Heureux, supra, involved a tenancy and not recreational activity.

A similar case is Panaroni v. Johnson, 158 Conn. 92, 256 A.2d 246 (1969). There, another tenant was permitted to sue a landlord based on housing code violations despite a written lease containing a waiver clause. Id., 104. Again, Panaroni v. Johnson, supra, did not involve a recreational activity waiver.

A Connecticut case closer to the facts of the present one is Fedor v. Mauwehu Council, 21 Conn.Sup. 38, 143 A.2d 466 (1958). [*7] The trial court granted a demurrer to a special defense based on a written waiver signed by the injured boy’s father, which waiver purported to release a boy scout camp from liability.

The court stated that “parties may not stipulate for protection against liability for negligence in the performance of a duty imposed by law or where public interest requires performance.” Id., 39.

On the national level, some jurisdictions invalidate recreational activity releases if the negligent conduct contravenes public policy as embodied in statutorily imposed duties while other jurisdictions recognize the enforceability of such preinjury waivers. See 54 A.L.R.5th 513 (2004), §§ 5[a] and [b].

In McCarthy v. National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, 48 N.J. 539, 226 A.2d 713 (1967), the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed a trial court’s invalidation of a preinjury release in a case where the plaintiff was allegedly harmed by the defendants’ failure to comply with a state regulation governing the placement of fuel lines in racing cars. That Court stated that the “prescribed safety requirements may not be contracted away, for if they could be, [*8] the salient protective purposes of the legislation would largely be nullified.” Id. 54. That opinion recognized that such anticipatory releases are enforceable when they relate to strictly private affairs, however the Court remarked that the “situation becomes an entirely different one in the eye of the law when the legislation in question is . . . a police measure obviously intended for the protection of human life; in such event public policy does not permit an individual to waive the protection which the statute is designed to afford him.” Id.

The West Virginia Supreme Court reached a similar result in Murphy v. American River Runners, Inc., 186 W.Va. 310, 412 S.E.2d 504 (1991). West Virginia has a statutory scheme regarding the division of responsibility for harm resulting from the risks of whitewater rafting. That scheme immunizes commercial rafting operators from liability for risks inherent in that activity but “imposes in general terms certain statutory duties upon commercial whitewater outfitters.” Id., 317. A rafter suffered injuries when the outfitter ‘s employee attempted to use one raft to dislodge another which was hung up on some rocks. Id., 313-14. [*9] That Court concluded “when a statute imposes a standard of care, a clause in an agreement purporting to exempt a party from tort liability to a member of the protected class for failure to conform to that statutory standard is unenforceable.” Id., 318. The West Virginia Supreme Court also observed that that state’s skiing statutes were very similar to their whitewater rafting legislation. Id., 317.

These cases invalidating preinjury waivers where the basis of liability is a violation of a statute appear to be based either on a presumption that such releases are against public policy or on the legal inability of the releasor to waive a duty which protects the public or a class of persons of which the releasor is only one member. The court finds this reasoning persuasive.

Common-law negligence is a breach of a duty to exercise reasonable care with respect to another when confronting a particularized and individualized set of surrounding circumstances which may never arise again. A party is entitled to contract away the right to hold the releasee responsible for careless conduct peculiar to the releasor’s situation.

On the other hand, statutory negligence [*10] is based on deviation from a legislatively mandated course of conduct which governs a generalized set of circumstances. The statutory rule applies in every case in which those generic circumstances may exist and where the injured party falls within the class the statute was designed to protect. Coughlin v. Peters, 153 Conn. 99, 101, 214 A.2d 127 (1965). The doctrine of statutory negligence applies to create liability regardless of whether the defendant acted with reasonable prudence. Jacobs v. Swift & Co., 141 Conn. 276, 279, 105 A.2d 658 (1954).

If liability for breach of statutory duty may be waived preinjury, the operator of a recreational facility could design, construct, and run a facility in total disregard of the legislatively prescribed rules with impunity, as to civil damages, simply by restricting use of the facility to those patrons willing to sign a release. In other words, the operator could repeal the protection of the legislatively selected class member by member.

Given our Supreme Court’s reluctance to afford liberal recognition to preinjury waivers and the need to prevent the undermining of statutorily defined duties, the court holds [*11] as a matter of law, that the plaintiffs’ release in this case is unenforceable to defeat the claims of a violation of § 29-211.

The motion for summary judgment is, therefore, denied.

Sferrazza, J.


Oklahoma Federal Court opinion: the OK Supreme Court would void a release signed by the parent for a minor.

Minor injured in a sky-diving accident is allowed to sue because the release, she and her parents signed are void under Oklahoma law. Parents are not allowed to sue for their claims because of the release.

Wethington v. Swainson, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 169145

State: Oklahoma, United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma

Plaintiff: Holly Wethington and Makenzie Wethington

Defendant: Robert Swainson, d/b/a/ Pegasus Airsport

Plaintiff Claims: (1) provided inadequate training to [*2]  Makenzie in preparation for the parachute jump, (2) selected a person to provide radio assistance who had no prior experience, (3) provided old equipment that malfunctioned during Makenzie’s jump, and (4) permitted Makenzie to use a parachute she was ill-prepared to use and which was inappropriate for her skill level

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: for the defendant for the claims of the parents, for the plaintiff for her claims

Year: 2015

The minor plaintiff was sixteen years old when she wanted to check another item off her bucket list. She went to the defendant’s sky-diving business along with her parents.

First, the minor plaintiff completed a Registration Form and Medical Statement which included a notice that sky diving was dangerous. The minor plaintiff also signed a release. Her parents also signed the release. The release required the minor plaintiff to write out a statement that she knew she was signing a release and understood the risks. She wrote this out and signed it. The bottom of the release also had a ratification paragraph which the Parent/Guardian was required to sign that stated they understood the risks and released the defendants. Both parents signed this.

In total, a warning in one document, a release signed by all three parents, an additional clause signed by the paragraphs and a written paragraph written and signed by the minor plaintiff is normally far in excess of what a party signs before engaging in recreational activities.

The minor plaintiff then received four houses of training. On her first jump, her parachute malfunctioned, and she hit the ground sustaining injuries.

The defendants filed for a motion for summary judgment based on the release.

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

The court started by looking at the issues surrounding release law in Oklahoma. “An exculpatory clause releases in advance the second party for any harm the second party might cause the first party after the contract is entered.” Releases are enforceable in Oklahoma but are “distasteful.”

At the same time, releases in Oklahoma should not be voided because of public policy grounds. “Notwithstanding this admonition, courts should void contract clauses on public-policy grounds “rarely, with great caution and in cases that are free from doubt.” Public policy grounds are the normal way releases signed by minors are voided.

Releases in Oklahoma have to meet three criteria to be valid.

(1) Their language must evidence a clear and unambiguous intent to exonerate the would-be defendant from liability for the sought-to-be-recovered damages;

(2) At the time the contract was executed, there must have been no vast difference in bargaining power between parties; and

(3) Enforcement of the clause would not (a) be injurious to public health, public morals or confidence in administration of the law or (b) so undermine the security of individual rights vis-a-vis personal safety or private property as to violate public policy.

The court also stated that under Oklahoma law releases cannot work to prevent “liability for intentional, willful or fraudulent acts or gross, wanton negligence.”

After reviewing the release the court found the release was valid.

First, the Release states in clear and unequivocal terms the intention of the parties to excuse Defendant from liability caused by Defendant’s negligence, equipment failure, or inadequate instruction. Plaintiffs signed and initialed several clauses containing the headings, RELEASE FROM LIABILITY, COVENANT NOT TO SUE, and ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF RISK. Mrs. Wethington and her husband signed a ratification stating they had read the Release, understood its terms, and agreed to be bound thereby.

The court then looked at whether there was inequality in the bargaining power of the plaintiff and found none.

Second, there is no evidence of unequal bargaining power. “Oklahoma courts consider two factors in determining parties’ relative bargaining power: ‘(1) the importance of the subject matter to the physical or economic wellbeing of the party agreeing to the release, and (2) the amount of free choice that party could have exercised when seeking alternate services.'” There is no evidence that skydiving was necessary or important to Plaintiffs’ wellbeing. In fact, when asked why she wanted to skydive, Makenzie answered, “It’s on my bucket list.”

The court found the plaintiffs were not bound to sky dive with the defendant; she was free to sky dive with anyone. Therefore, the plaintiff was not under any pressure or requirement to sky dive with the defendant.

The court then looked at Oklahoma law to see if parents could sign away a minor’s right to sue.

It is also true that as a matter of public policy, courts have protected minors from improvident and imprudent contractual commitments by declaring the contract of a minor is voidable at the election of the minor after she attains majority. Under Oklahoma law, a minor’s right to rescind a contract is unaffected by the approval or consent of a parent.

The court also found that for a claim to be approved for a minor for an injury resulting in a settlement, the court had to approve the settlement.

However, the court found this case was complicated by the fact the minor plaintiff’s parents had also signed the release. “In this case, however, Makenzie’s parents also knowingly signed the Release on her behalf, ratifying and affirming its exculpatory content, and agreeing to be bound thereby.”

The Oklahoma Supreme Court did not rule on the issue. Federal courts hearing cases based on the diversity of the parties dealing with state law issues must apply the law of the state where the lawsuit is based or the law that applies.

…federal court sitting in diversity must apply state law as propounded by the forum’s highest court. Absent controlling precedent, the federal court must attempt to predict how the state’s highest court would resolve the issue.

The next issue is disaffirmance of the contract. A minor must disaffirm a contract after reaching the age of majority or the contract is valid. The plaintiffs argued, and the court agreed that the filing of the lawsuit disaffirmed the release. “Plaintiffs correctly argue that commencement of this lawsuit constitutes a disaffirmance of the Release, and the contract is void ab initio.”

For more on this see Rare issue this case looked at a release signed by a minor that prevented a suit for his injuries after turning age 18. However, this decision was later overturned in Oregon Supreme Court finds release signed at ski area is void as a violation of public policy.

The court also examined the issue that the parents signed the release and found it had no bearing on the case. However, the release did stop claims by the parents.

The ratification signed by Makenzie’s parents is, likewise, unenforceable as a bar to Makenzie’s claims. The Release, however, is otherwise conspicuous and clear so as to bar the parents’ cause of action based upon injury to their child.

When a minor is injured, the minor can sue and the parents can sue. Dependent upon the state, the claims of the parents may include those of the minor or may be solely based on the parents’ loss.

The court then ruled that the minor claim was valid and not barred by the release. The parent’s claims, specifically the named plaintiff, the minor plaintiff’s mother, were barred by the release.

Defendant’s motion is granted as to Plaintiff Holly Wethington’s claims and denied as to Plaintiff Makenzie Wethington’s claim for negligence. Since the skydiving contract is rendered void ab initio by means of Makenzie’s lawsuit, her breach of contract claim cannot proceed as a matter of law.

So Now What?

The minor plaintiff can sue, and the mother cannot.

This decision is not controlling in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Supreme Court could still rule that a parent can sign away a minor’s right to sue.

At the same time, this decision outlines release law in Oklahoma and does a great job. As far as how the Oklahoma Supreme Court will rule, the Federal District Court knows the Supreme Court in the state where they sit better than any other person, and I would vote with the Federal Court.

As in other cases in the majority of states, a parent cannot sign away a minor’s right to sue.  To see the States where a parent can sign away a minor’s right to sue and the decisions deciding that issue see States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

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Federal Judge holds that North Carolina law supports a release signed by the mother of a minor plaintiff to stop a lawsuit

Still not a decision by the NC Supreme Court which is controlling on this issue, however a very interesting case and a very staunch support of the idea that a parent can sign away a minor’s right to sue.

Kelly, v. United States of America, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135289

State: North Carolina, United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Southern Division

Plaintiff: Morgan Kelly, Pamela Kelly, and Terry Kelly

Defendant: United States of America

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2014

A prior decision in this case was written about in North Carolina may allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue for injuries when the minor is engaged in non-profit activities sponsored by schools, volunteers, or community organizations which reviewed Kelly v. United States of America, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89741.

This is a decision by a federal court. Federal courts do not make decisions changing state law. Federal Courts can only apply state law to the facts in front of them. If the law is not settled it may surmise what the law it, however the courts of the state where the federal court sits, in this case North Carolina, are not bound by the law. Other websites have reported that federal courts can change the effect of the law in a state which is not true. That is why the precautionary warning on this decision. The North Carolina Supreme Court can rule on this issue at some future date and say the opposite of what this decision says. So until the issue of whether a parent can sign away a minor’s right to sue is reviewed by a state appellate or Supreme Court in North Carolina, not is set in stone.

A quick review of the facts: the minor plaintiff, age fifteen, was injured during a confidence course (obstacle course?) while attending a ROTC weekend at United States Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. The mother of the minor signed a release so the minor could attend the weekend.

There are several new facts which were argued in this phase of the case, and not in the prior decision, which are interesting. Allegedly the release was it was signed, was signed with the parent believing the twin sister was attending the camp. However at the time the release was signed there were no names on the release. The sister did not attend, the plaintiff did and the plaintiff filled in her name on the release. An information packet was sent to all attendee’s high schools which described the confidence course. However neither of the minor’s parents saw the packet.

All aspects of the trip were free for the cadets except they had to pay for their meals at the Camp Lejeune dining facility at a reduced rate and pay for anything the plaintiff purchased at the Post Exchange.

Prior to undertaking the confidence course the minor and other cadets completed two obstacle courses. The actual element the minor was injured on was the “slide for life.” While climbing the slide for life the minor fell suffering injuries.

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

The first issue was whether a parent could sign a release and release the minor’s right to sue. The court found in this decision and in the prior decision a parent could sign away a minor’s right to sue.

It does not appear that North Carolina courts have ruled on whether a liability waiver signed by a parent on behalf of a minor child is enforceable, yet numerous courts in other jurisdictions have upheld pre-injury liability waivers signed by parents on behalf of minors in the context of litigation filed against schools, municipalities, and clubs providing activities for children.

The court then reviewed other state law where the court’s had allowed a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue. The court in reviewing those decisions found them analogous to these facts and applicable to this case.

… the court continues to find that these cases are analogous to the circumstances here, where the facilities and instruction of the NJROTC program were provided at no expense and students were charged only for personal purchases from the Post Exchange and for meals at discount rate.

The court found numerous reasons within those cases why the courts upheld the releases.

… the public is best served when risks or costs of litigation regarding such programs are minimized.

… public interest by respecting the realm of parental authority to weigh the risks and costs of physical injury to their children against the benefits of the child’s participation in an activity.

North Carolina, the law to be applied in this case by the court:

…recognized a public interest in respecting parents’ authority over certain life decisions for their children. North Carolina has recognized a public interest in respecting parents’ authority over certain life decisions for their children.

The court remains persuaded by the analysis of those courts upholding liability waivers signed by parents in the context of litigation against schools, municipalities and clubs, which either implicitly or explicitly found the risk presented by such waivers to be outweighed by interests in providing non-commercial activities and respecting parental authority.

The court also found that this case was not controlled by a public interest argument. The court also found that there was no recognized North Carolina public interest in voiding the release to protect minors over the wishes of the parents. “First, neither the defendant’s status as a government body, nor the volunteer status of a program’s personnel, are controlling factors in the analysis.”

The concluded this analysis and denied a public interest argument in the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).

In turn, JROTC programs promote the community welfare by instilling the values and benefits noted above in the community’s children. Finally, the mere fact that the United States has waived its sovereign immunity through the FTCA does not mean that it should be denied the use of a waiver that other non-governmental volunteer or non-profit organizations could employ. On the contrary, the FTCA only makes the United States liable “in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances.”

The FTCA is the statute that describes how and for what reasons the federal government, including the military can be sued.

The court then looked at the actual release to see if it met the law of North Carolina to be valid. The plaintiff argued there was no meeting of the minds, a basic requirement for a contract, which a release is. This is also referred to as a “mutual mistake.” “However, a unilateral mistake, unaccompanied by fraud, imposition, undue influence or like circumstances is insufficient to avoid a contract.”

Because the mistake, if any, was only a unilateral mistake, it was not enough to void the release. Unilateral mistake meaning only one part to the contract knew about the problem or was affected by the problem.

The plaintiff then argued that because the release was signed by the mother for one daughter who did not go but used by the second daughter who did go, the plaintiff, the release was void. The court found that even if the release was void for this reason, because the plaintiff’s took advantage of the opportunity, which could not be accepted without a release, they had ratified and affirmed the release.

North Carolina courts have held that, when a release is originally invalid or voidable, it may be ratified and affirmed by subsequent acts accepting the benefits.

Similarly, under the North Carolina theory of quasi-estoppel, also known as “estoppel by benefit,” a party who “accepts a transaction or instrument and then accepts benefits under it may be estopped to take a later position inconsistent with the prior acceptance of that same transaction or instrument.”

The doctrine is grounded “upon a party’s acquiescence or acceptance of payment or benefits, by virtue of which that party is thereafter prevented from maintaining a position inconsistent with those acts.”

Since the opportunities of the weekend could not be accepted or taken without a signed release, the plaintiff could not after accepting the benefits argue the release was void.

Here, the benefits of the Liability Waiver for plaintiff Pamela Kelly consisted of her daughter’s participation in the NJROTC orientation program, with the attendant benefits of introducing her to the culture, skills, and values that the NJROTC seeks to impart.

By accepting the benefit of her child’s attendance at the orientation session, knowing that a liability waiver was required for attendance, plaintiff Pamela Kelly cannot now disavow the effect of the instrument she signed that allowed her child to attend.

The next issue the plaintiff argued was the release did not identify the risks in the release. “As an alternative ground for denying summary judgment, plaintiffs argue that the Liability Waiver cannot be enforced because the government did not identify the risks that the form covered.”

The plaintiff’s argued they did not know their daughter would be engaging in the risky behavior and activities that caused her injury.

Consequently, they state they anticipated that plaintiff Morgan Kelly would only be visiting Camp Lejeune to observe equipment and other military activities, and that she would only be performing the same activities that she had performed in the past, such as marching in formations, drills, and “ground-based physical fitness training.

The court found this was not required under the law. Here the contract language was clear and the intention of the release for one party to waive the negligence and any accompanying risks of the other party was evident.

The heart of a contract is the intention of the parties,” which “must be determined from the language of the contract, the purposes of the contract, the subject matter and the situation of the parties at the time the contract is executed.” Liability waivers are disfavored under North Carolina law, and strictly construed against the parties seeking to enforce them. However, when the language is clear and unambiguous, construction of the agreement is a matter of law for the court, and the court cannot look beyond the terms of the contract to determine the parties’ intent.

The language was clear and unambiguous in its intent.

As such, the waiver provides ample notice to plaintiffs of the potential for a wide range of activities at the event, not limited in any way to marching, drills, or “ground-based physical fitness training.” Plaintiffs do not allege that they were affirmatively misled as to the nature of the activities that would comprise the event, or that they were prevented from inquiring into the activities or the associated risks.

The next argument was the plaintiff had disaffirmed the release by filing the complaint. “Plaintiffs also argue that summary judgment should be denied because plaintiff Morgan Kelly has disaffirmed it (by filing complaint) and because the Liability.” They buttressed this argument stating the language in the release referred to the plaintiff not a parent. However the court found the plaintiff’s had not provided any legal authority to support their argument.

Yet plaintiffs have not cited any case holding that a form such as that used here, which expressly waives both the claims of the child and her guardians, and which is signed by one of those guardians, cannot be enforced against the guardian who signed it. The court again holds that the Liability Waiver is enforceable to bar the claims of both Morgan and Pamela Kelly.

The next issue was whether the release, signed by the mother and effective against the claims of the mother and daughter also prohibited claims of the father.

The question remains whether the Liability Waiver is effective against the claims of plaintiff Terry Kelly, who did not sign the document, and denies ever seeing it prior to plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s orientation visit.

The court reasoned the release could not be used against the father if he did not know of the release. If you do not know of the contract you cannot be held to the contract even under a quasi-estoppel theory argued earlier in the case.

However the plaintiff’s themselves destroyed this argument. The release had both names of the parents written in by hand. The father in his deposition did not definitively state that the handwriting was not his. The plaintiff’s also argued the thought the release was not an original (which is not a valid evidentiary argument). The court then ordered the plaintiff’s had additional time to visually inspect the document and determine if it was the one they signed.

No additional arguments or support for the argument was made that the release was not the original or not signed by the parents. The court, then found that claim was no longer valid because it did not create a genuine issue concerning the release which is necessary to deny a motion for summary judgment.

Plaintiffs had opportunity to review the original Release Form, and to have it assessed by an expert if deemed necessary. An opponent of summary judgment “must produce more than frivolous assertions, unsupported statements, illusory issues and mere suspicions.”

The court then went back to the quasi-estoppel claim to further foreclose that argument by the plaintiff: “… because the record shows that plaintiff Terry Kelly accepted the benefits of the Release Form as it applied to the orientation visit.” The court further stated:”[A] party will not be allowed to accept benefits which arise from certain terms of a contract and at the same time deny the effect of other terms of the same agreement

The court summed up that argument by stating:

The same principle operates here, where plaintiff Terry Kelly signed a Release Form surrendering claims related to his daughter’s participation in NJROTC training, then allowed his daughter to attend a NJROTC training orientation visit. On the evidence, there is no genuine issue that plaintiff Terry Kelly accepted that plaintiff Morgan Kelly’s “membership in the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps training,” included the orientation visit. In consideration of this training, including the orientation visit, he released “claims, demands, actions, or causes of action, due to . . . injury.” De-fendant reasonably relied on plaintiff Terry Kelly’s writing, in addition to his acquiescence to his [*35]  daughter’s attendance at the orientation visit. Plaintiff Terry Kelly cannot be allowed to accept the benefits of the Release Form through his daughter’s attendance, while at the same time denying the release that was required as a condition of that attendance.

That eliminated the last claim and argument by the plaintiff and summary judgement was granted.

So Now What?

Although this decision may not be controlling in North Carolina until the North Carolina state courts rule on it, the court effectively argued each point why the release should be valid. On top of that, I do not know if this case is being appealed, which again, may change the outcome.

One point that was argued that I continually argue to do, to save the time and cost of defending a release is to put in the release the risks the plaintiff will be assuming. If the release is thrown out of court, you can get the release in front of the jury to prove the plaintiff assumed the risk of the injury.

This is great legal reasoning on release law. This is a good case to keep handy when you are arguing why a release is valid. Whether your state allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue or not, the legal analysis used here can be used in many different release cases.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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New Minnesota statute attempted to eliminate releases and thankfully, might have made release law in MN better

Thankfully, law does not change anything and to some extent, helps to reinforce releases in Minnesota and releases for minors.

Several attempts were made this year to eliminate releases in Minnesota. The statute specifically includes recreational activities in its language. The result signed into law prevents releases from relieving liability for greater than ordinary negligence.

Even if the language is in the release the language is severable, which means it does not void the release, just the specific language.

However, the law does not change anything because greater than ordinary negligence, gross, will, wanton or intentional negligence, have never been covered by a release.

Here is the new statute.

JUDICIAL PROOF

CHAPTER 604.  CIVIL LIABILITY

ACTIONS INVOLVING FAULT GENERALLY

Minn. Stat. § 604.055 (2014)

604.055 WAIVER OF LIABILITY FOR NEGLIGENT CONDUCT

   Subdivision 1.  Certain agreements are void and unenforceable. –An agreement between parties for a consumer service, including a recreational activity, that purports to release, limit, or waive the liability of one party for damage, injuries, or death resulting from conduct that constitutes greater than ordinary negligence is against public policy and void and unenforceable.

The agreement, or portion thereof, is severable from a release, limitation, or waiver of liability for damage, injuries, or death resulting from conduct that constitutes ordinary negligence or for risks that are inherent in a particular activity.

Subd. 2.  Party or parties. –For the purposes of this section, “party” or “parties” includes a person, agent, servant, or employee of that party or parties, and includes a minor or another who is authorized to sign or accept the agreement on behalf of the minor.

Subd. 3.  Other void and unenforceable agreements. –This section does not prevent a court from finding that an agreement is void and unenforceable as against public policy on other grounds or under other law.

Subd. 4.  Nonapplication to certain claims. –This section does not apply to claims against the state pursuant to section 3.736 or a municipality pursuant to section 466.02.

HISTORY:  2013 c 118 s 1

NOTES:

The good news is the definition of a party to the release includes a “…minor or another who is authorized to sign or accept the agreement on behalf of the minor. That adds more support to Minnesota law, which has allowed a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue. See Minnesota decision upholds parent’s right to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

Greater interest is the rest of the definition of a party. “…accept the agreement on behalf of the minor.” Can a Scoutmaster or Little League coach who has been told by the minor’s parents you can sign stuff for my kid, release someone from liability? Legally, it seems like a stretch, but this is the best argument I’ve ever seen for such actions.

The bill appears to be a compromise from an attempt to eliminate releases totally and after the arguments, this was the result. Thank heavens!

This does  one thing; it legislatively states that releases are OK. You can’t argue now, that releases are void in Minnesota for any legislative reason. And maybe someone other than a parent can sign away a minor’s right to sue.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Yauger v. Skiing Enterprises, Inc., 196 Wis. 2d 485; 538 N.W.2d 834; 1995 Wisc. App. LEXIS 1022

Yauger v. Skiing Enterprises, Inc., 196 Wis. 2d 485; 538 N.W.2d 834; 1995 Wisc. App. LEXIS 1022

Michael Yauger and Brenda Yauger, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Skiing Enterprises, Inc., d/b/a Hidden Valley Ski Area, a Wisconsin corporation, and Investors Insurance Company of America, a foreign corporation, Defendants-Respondents.

No. 94-2683

COURT OF APPEALS OF WISCONSIN

196 Wis. 2d 485; 538 N.W.2d 834; 1995 Wisc. App. LEXIS 1022

July 12, 1995, Oral Argument

August 23, 1995, Opinion Released

August 23, 1995, Opinion Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1] APPEAL from a judgment of the circuit court for Manitowoc County: ALLAN J. DEEHR, Judge.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

COUNSEL: On behalf of the plaintiffs-appellants, the cause was submitted on the briefs of Gary L. Bendix and John M. Bruce of Savage, Gregorski, Webster, Stangel & Bendix, S.C. of Manitowoc. There was oral argument by John M. Bruce.

On behalf of the defendants-respondents, there was a brief and oral argument by Thomas B. Hartley of Guttormsen, Hartley & Guttormsen of Kenosha.

JUDGES: Before Anderson, P.J., Brown and Snyder, JJ.

OPINION BY: BROWN

OPINION

[**836] [*490] BROWN, J. We are asked to gauge whether the exculpatory contract in this case is void as against public policy. Here, Brenda and Michael Yauger brought a wrongful death action against Hidden Valley Ski Area after their eleven-year-old daughter, Tara, was killed when she struck the concrete base of a ski lift tower. The trial court dismissed the claim finding that the [*491] Yaugers’ contract with Hidden Valley for a season pass contained a valid exculpatory clause. The Yaugers now reassert their challenge that [***2] it is void.

The following facts were taken from the appellate record consisting of the pleadings, affidavits and depositions. On October 8, 1992, Michael Yauger submitted an application for a family season pass at Hidden Valley. This form is reproduced at the end of the opinion. The pass cost roughly $ 720. Although only Michael signed the application, his wife and two daughters (then ages ten and eight) were named on the form. Depositions reveal that Michael submitted the application in person at the Hidden Valley Ski Shop.

The Yauger family was familiar with Hidden Valley. Michael had skied there approximately sixty times in the three seasons prior to the accident, and Tara had skied there about fifty times prior to her accident. The record also shows that the Yauger family had a season pass at the resort the prior year.

On March 7, 1993, Tara suffered her fatal accident. The exact facts surrounding her death are unsettled, but the record currently suggests that she struck the side of a concrete base of a ski lift tower. The Yaugers sued Hidden Valley that October, claiming that this support was not adequately padded.

After limited discovery, Hidden Valley and its insurer [***3] sought summary judgment on grounds that the exculpatory release within the Yaugers’ contract for a season pass barred them from bringing this claim since it arose out of the “certain inherent risks in skiing.” The Yaugers responded that the clause was invalid as against public policy because it was not knowingly entered into by each of the Yaugers, was ambiguous and overbroad and also attempted to encompass protections provided under Wisconsin’s safe-place law.

[*492] The trial court granted Hidden Valley’s motion. It focused its analysis on the phrase “certain inherent risks in skiing” and reasoned that it covered the type of injury that killed Tara, namely, the risk that a skier will collide with a stationary object. It also rejected the Yaugers’ argument that Brenda Yauger was not bound by the exculpatory clause, finding that her express endorsement was not necessary since she received the benefit of the season pass.

We are reviewing a grant of summary judgment; thus, § 802.08(2), STATS., governs [**837] the analysis. See Decade’s Monthly Income and Appreciation Fund v. Whyte & Hirschboeck, S.C., 164 Wis. 2d 227, 230, 474 N.W.2d 766, 767 (Ct. App. 1991), aff’d, 173 Wis.2d 665, [***4] 495 N.W.2d 335 (1993). [HN1] Summary judgment is appropriate when there are no material issues of fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. Moreover, this appeal concerns the interpretation of a contract which appellate courts address de novo. Id. at 230-31, 474 N.W.2d at 767. Therefore, to defeat Hidden Valley’s motion for summary judgment the Yaugers must show that material facts are in dispute, or that the trial court erred in its analysis of the exculpatory clause. See id. at 230-31, 474 N.W.2d at 767.

We first turn to the analysis of the season pass and its exculpatory clause. Wisconsin law does not favor these agreements and courts therefore examine with care the facts of each case to ascertain whether enforcement will contravene public policy. See Merten v. Nathan, 108 Wis. 2d 205, 210-11, 321 N.W.2d 173, 176 (1982). The goal is to strike a balance between conflicting principles of contract and tort law. See id. at 211, 321 N.W.2d at 177. [HN2] Freedom of contract suggests that [*493] courts should abstain from interfering in people’s relationships and personal affairs. See id. On [***5] the other hand, tort law recognizes that those responsible for causing harm through negligence should bear the cost of the harm and should not be allowed to circumvent this duty through contract. See id. at 211-12, 321 N.W.2d at 177.

A review of the recent supreme court cases on this issue indicates that there are two aspects to the question of whether an exculpatory contract violates public policy. In Dobratz v. Thomson, 161 Wis. 2d 502, 468 N.W.2d 654 (1991), the court cited with approval § 195 of the RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF CONTRACTS (1979), which sets out a series of situations in which an exculpatory contract would violate public policy. Id. at 515-16, 468 N.W.2d at 658-59 (citing Arnold v. Shawano County Agric. Soc’y, 111 Wis. 2d 203, 210-11, 330 N.W.2d 773, 777 (1983)). The first element tests the effect of the exculpatory clause, e.g., does it exempt an employer from suits by an employee. See id. 1

1 This two-prong analysis was also discussed in Discount Fabric House v. Wisconsin Telephone Co., 117 Wis. 2d 587, 602, 345 N.W.2d 417, 424-25 (1984), where the court faced a challenge to an exculpatory release that served to cover any errors in telephone directory advertising. The court explained that the analysis of such contracts involves an assessment of the “commercial reasonableness” of the terms (substantive) and the relationship between the parties during negotiations (procedural). Id.

[***6] The Yaugers’ assertion that the exculpatory clause in Hidden Valley’s season pass application contravenes the safe-place statute, § 101.11, STATS., fits this line of analysis. In further support of this argument they cite Meyer v. Val-Lo-Will Farms, Inc., 14 Wis. 2d 616, 111 [*494] N.W.2d 500 (1961), for the proposition that a for-profit winter sports park was subject to the safe-place law. In substance, they argue that the exculpatory clause violates public policy because it seeks to relieve Hidden Valley of the duty imposed by the statute. See RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF CONTRACTS § 195(2)(c). 2 The trial court rejected this argument, reasoning that the safe-place statute did not create a special cause of action, but established a higher duty of care for what would ordinarily be addressed through common law negligence.

2 The applicability of the safe-place statute, § 101.11, STATS., in situations where frequenters challenge exculpatory contracts was raised, but left unanswered, in Kellar v. Lloyd, 180 Wis. 2d 162, 178-81, 509 N.W.2d 87, 93-94 (Ct. App. 1993).

[***7] While we agree with the trial court’s result, a different analysis is appropriate. Moreover, we need not decide the issue of whether the safe-place law imposed a special statutory duty on Hidden Valley. We hold that even if the statute does apply, a potential defendant may still bargain for an exclusion.

As noted above, the supreme court has endorsed § 195 of the RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF CONTRACTS. See Merten, 108 Wis. 2d at 212-13, 321 N.W.2d at 177-78. 3 [*495] The [**838] official comment to this section, however, suggests that the enumerated standards are not a litmus test for these agreements; it states: “the rigor of this rule may, however, be mitigated by a fairly bargained for agreement to limit liability to a reasonable agreed value in return for a lower rate.” RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF CONTRACTS § 195 cmt. a.

3 We recognize that the exact status of RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF CONTRACTS § 195 (1979), is somewhat clouded. In Dobratz v. Thomson, 161 Wis. 2d 502, 515-16, 468 N.W.2d 654, 658-59 (1991), the court expressly quoted all the subsections after noting that it had originally “referred with approval” to them in Arnold v. Shawano County Agric. Soc’y, 111 Wis. 2d 203, 210-11, 330 N.W.2d 773, 777 (1983). When one examines the Arnold opinion, however, it includes only a general reference to the RESTATEMENT. Indeed, the rule in § 195(2)(c), which provides the basis for the Yaugers’ argument, was not referred to in the discussion. See Arnold, 111 Wis. 2d at 210-11, 330 N.W.2d at 777. Moreover, in the supreme court’s most recent exploration of these issues, the majority opinion made no reference to § 195, although it did reaffirm its confidence in the Dobratz decision. Richards v. Richards, 181 Wis. 2d 1007, 1014, 513 N.W.2d 118, 121 (1994). We have located a federal district court case in which the various subsections of § 195 were found to be a component of Wisconsin law and formed the basis for voiding an exculpatory contract. See RepublicBank Dallas, N.A. v. First Wisconsin Nat’l Bank, 636 F. Supp. 1470, 1473 (E.D. Wis. 1986) (voiding clause exempting liability for harm arising out of reckless or intentional acts). We thus find that § 195 continues to be a valid component of Wisconsin common law.

[***8] The process envisioned by the drafters of this comment aptly describes the transaction between the Yaugers and Hidden Valley. The Yaugers wanted a discount on their skiing. The resort was a willing supplier, but recognized that the increase in days skied would directly increase the risk of an accident and the potential for a damages claim. Hidden Valley therefore sought a release from liability. Gauging the deal at the time when the parties entered into the contract, we cannot say that the exchange was totally unreasonable. The Yaugers obtained their discount, but lost the right to bring a claim arising out of an accident which may never have occurred. Here, freedom of contract requires that we not delve deeper into the merits of this agreement. [*496] See Merten, 108 Wis. 2d at 211, 321 N.W.2d at 177. 4

4 Of course the above analysis certainly does not summarize all the concerns of the bargaining parties. The Yaugers and Hidden Valley were also making allowances for the risk that there would be no snow that season. The key to understanding our analysis, however, is to recognize that courts rarely are able to do a better job of writing contracts than the parties themselves.

[***9] The second prong of the public policy question entails examining the circumstances surrounding the bargaining process. See Dobratz, 161 Wis. 2d at 516 n.2, 468 N.W.2d at 659. For example, in Richards v. Richards, 181 Wis. 2d 1007, 1010, 513 N.W.2d 118, 119 (1994), 5 the supreme court was asked to review an exculpatory contract signed by a passenger in a commercial, long-haul truck. The plaintiff was married to a driver employed by the defendant and was asked to sign a “passenger authorization” before joining her husband on the road. Id. at 1012, 513 N.W.2d at 119. Within the form was a clause releasing the defendant from liability for any harm that might occur during her travels. Id. Still, the wife brought suit after she and her husband were involved in an accident. The lower courts found that the release was valid and granted summary [*497] judgment for the defendant. Id. at 1010, 513 N.W.2d at 119.

5 We discuss Richards in detail because it represents the supreme court’s most recent analysis of how flaws in the specific terms of an agreement, or the circumstances of the bargaining process, may serve as grounds for voiding an exculpatory agreement. For other examples, see Merten v. Nathan, 108 Wis. 2d 205, 214-15, 321 N.W.2d 173, 178 (1982) (release invalidated because defendant misrepresented a fact during the negotiation process), and Eder v. Lake Geneva Raceway, 187 Wis. 2d 596, 610-11, 523 N.W.2d 429, 434 (Ct. App. 1994) (release clause found to be ambiguous).

[***10] After its review of the contract, however, the supreme court found it to be void as contrary to public policy. Id. at 1011, 513 N.W.2d at 119. The majority pointed to three aspects of the agreement, which together led to this conclusion. First, the contract served two purposes. The court emphasized that the exculpatory clause was not distinguishable from other components of the document. It reasoned that highlighting the release provision would have provided greater protection for the signing party. See id. at 1017, 513 N.W.2d at 122.

Next, the court found that the contract was over-inclusive. It applied not only to the [**839] defendant, but also to all of its affiliates. Moreover, it did not delineate the nature of claims that would be excluded, such as those arising from negligence but not from intentional acts. Also, the time period through which the exclusion would apply was not limited. The majority found that the contract was lopsided in favor of the defendant and should therefore be construed against the company. See id. at 1017-18, 513 N.W.2d at 122.

Finally, the court noted that the release was embodied in a standard form contract, and the defendant [***11] did not inform the plaintiff of the purpose and effect of the authorization. This suggested that there was little or no opportunity to dicker about the terms. Id. at 1019, 513 N.W.2d at 123.

The Yaugers cite Richards and raise a number of arguments, each suggesting that they and Hidden Valley were not on equal footing when they entered into this agreement. The many issues they raise can be distilled into three central points. First, the Yaugers contend that the release clause, which was a single [*498] term in the season pass application, was never pointed out to Michael before he completed and signed the form. See Richards, 181 Wis. 2d at 1019, 513 N.W.2d at 123. They further assert that summary judgment was inappropriate because Hidden Valley presented no evidence on this issue.

We are not persuaded. This agreement was signed in October, at least one month prior to the skiing season. There was no sense of urgency. Michael could have taken the form home for further consideration. In addition, the Yaugers had purchased a season pass for the prior year. Therefore, Michael had a source of knowledge from which to draw comparisons. Compare Eder v. Lake [***12] Geneva Raceway, 187 Wis. 2d 596, 609, 523 N.W.2d 429, 433 (Ct. App. 1994)(noting that parties signing the release were not allowed onto the racetrack grounds until they signed the release form).

Next, the Yaugers assert that the language within the exculpatory clause is ambiguous. It specifically addressed “certain inherent risks in skiing.” They question what constitutes these “inherent risks” and whether the clause only applies to a “certain” number of these dangers. In addition, they note that Hidden Valley did not provide any evidence which would identify these risks. The Yaugers also raise concerns that the clause (which is composed of a single sentence) reads to limit Hidden Valley’s liability for any injury occurring on the premises. They stress that this could be reasonably interpreted as an attempt to limit the resort’s liability for any accident on the premises, such as a slip and fall in the restaurant. See Richards, 181 Wis. 2d at 1017-18, 513 N.W.2d at 122.

The trial court concluded that the terminology covered the obvious dangers in skiing, viz, falling down or [*499] colliding with another skier or a fixed object, and that the “any injury” language was limited [***13] to those harms arising out of these risks. We agree.

[HN3] Whether a contract is ambiguous is a question of law. Borchardt v. Wilk, 156 Wis. 2d 420, 427, 456 N.W.2d 653, 656 (Ct. App. 1990). We test whether the term is reasonable or fairly susceptible of more than one construction. Id. [HN4] A clause is not ambiguous, however, merely because its language is general or broad. See Wilke v. First Federal Savs. & Loan Ass’n, 108 Wis. 2d 650, 654, 323 N.W.2d 179, 181 (Ct. App. 1982).

This was a contract between Hidden Valley and a season pass holder. The contracting skier, therefore, could reasonably be expected to have some knowledge about the sport. The Yaugers’ interest in skiing is further demonstrated by their willingness to commit over seven hundred dollars to skiing that season. 6 The record also reveals that the Yaugers had a similar pass at the resort the prior year. We are thus hesitant to accept their arguments that such language would lead to confusion among parties executing these agreements. The language is plain and simple. It aptly describes the risks that [**840] arise whenever one’s skis are in contact with the slope. 7

6 The season pass was not refundable.

[***14]

7 Very similar language can be found in Wisconsin’s recreational responsibility law. See § 895.525(3), STATS. (“A participant in a recreational activity … accepts the risks inherent in the recreational activity ….”) (emphasis added). Moreover, several states have adopted specific skier responsibility laws which codify these terms. For example, Colorado law provides, in part:

“Inherent dangers and risks of skiing” means those dangers or conditions which are an integral part of the sport of skiing, including changing weather conditions; snow conditions as they exist or may change, such as ice, hard pack, powder, packed powder, wind pack, corn, crust, slush, cut-up snow, and machine-made snow; surface or subsurface conditions such as bare spots, forest growth, rocks, stumps, streambeds, and trees, or other natural objects, and collisions with such natural objects; impact with lift towers, signs, posts, fences or enclosures, hydrants, water pipes, other man-made structures and their components; variations in steepness or terrain, whether natural or as a result of slope design, snowmaking or grooming operations, including but not limited to roads and catwalks or other terrain modifications; collisions with other skiers; and the failure of skiers to ski within their own abilities.

COLO. REV. STAT. ANN. § 33-44-103(10) (West Supp. 1994) (emphasis added).

Further discussion of these laws, and judicial efforts in providing interpretation, are set forth in Arthur N. Frakt and Janna S. Rankin, Surveying the Slippery Slope: The Questionable Value of Legislation to Limit Ski Area Liability, 28 IDAHO L. REV. 227 (1991-92).

[***15] [*500] Finally, the Yaugers argue that the exculpatory clause should be held void because it was “not clearly identified or distinguished.” See Richards, 181 Wis. 2d at 1017, 513 N.W.2d at 122.

The trial court noted that although the exculpatory language was not highlighted, there was no indication that it was disguised and therefore did not provide grounds for rendering the agreement void. Indeed, the clause is set out in a separate paragraph.

Any break in text requires the reader to pause and thus provides a moment for reflection.

The face of the application does not otherwise suggest that Hidden Valley was trying to trick season pass holders into signing away their rights. It was an application form. Not only did the applicants have to sign the agreement, but they had to furnish information [*501] such as their address, age, other family member names, etc. In sum, the form and application process provided ample opportunity for Michael to consider the terms of the agreement.

We have addressed a variety of concerns about the exculpatory clause of the season pass contract. Although no single point is troublesome enough to render the clause void, Richards suggests that [***16] courts may consider all these aspects together when making a determination about the effects of public policy. See id. at 1011, 513 N.W.2d at 119. But even the totality of the circumstances presented here does not warrant that this contract be set aside. The contracting process simply does not raise any concern of overreaching by the party seeking to be released from liability. 8

8 The Yaugers raised one other challenge to the exculpatory clause relating to the contract language. They assert that under Hortman v. Otis Erecting Co., 108 Wis. 2d 456, 463, 322 N.W.2d 482, 485-86 (Ct. App. 1982), an agreement which indemnifies a party for its own negligence must specifically include the term “negligence.” As the defendants contend, however, this specific argument was not presented to the trial court and is therefore waived on appeal. See, e.g., Bank One, Appleton, N.A. v. Reynolds, 176 Wis. 2d 218, 222, 500 N.W.2d 337, 339 (Ct. App. 1993).

We now turn to the second issue presented. [***17] Although we have found that the exculpatory clause serves as a bar to the Yaugers’ claim, Brenda nonetheless asserts that it should not run against her individually since she did not expressly acknowledge these terms, nor did she authorize her husband to execute a contract releasing these claims. In support of her argument, she draws an analogy to Arnold v. Shawano County Agri. Soc’y, 111 Wis. 2d 203, 214-15, 330 N.W.2d 773, 779 (1983), where the court held that a [*502] spouse’s claim for consortium rights is not defeated by a valid exculpatory contract running against the deceased.

In dismissing this claim the trial court distinguished Arnold, stating:

In this case the plaintiff Brenda Yauger did not sign the application, but the application was made on her behalf and for her [**841] benefit, which is not the factual situation in Arnold. And she is specifically identified and money is specifically paid for her membership, for her use, and the use of her daughter ….

Although we agree in substance with the trial court’s analysis, we feel it necessary to elaborate further. We add that Brenda’s claim is barred by the exculpatory clause because it is so intertwined [***18] with that of her husband, and thus it was reasonable for Hidden Valley to assume that Michael was acting on her behalf when he executed the agreement.

The Yaugers’ claim has three components: loss of consortium, Tara’s medical expenses and the cost of her funeral. See § 895.04(4), STATS. The right to pursue a claim for these losses accrues to Michael and Brenda as the “parents of the deceased.” See id. This is not a situation in which one parent’s recovery is limited or barred by his or her negligence. See § 895.04(7). This distinction recently was addressed in Chang v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 182 Wis. 2d 549, 561, 514 N.W.2d 399, 403 (1994), where the court noted: “the right to sue and recover damages under the wrongful death statute must be distinguished from the ownership and allocation of the recovery itself.”

Brenda alleges that she never authorized her husband to enter into this exculpatory clause (and bargain [*503] away her right to pursue a potential claim), nor was she aware of its effects. Nevertheless, she shared equally in the benefits that arose to her family, and the face of the application form would suggest that all [***19] named parties are bound by its terms.

Although there is little case law applying the principles of agency in transactions between married persons and third parties, Smart v. Estate of Ford, 23 Wis. 2d 60, 65-66, 126 N.W.2d 573, 576 (1964), summarized the Wisconsin rule that third parties may reasonably believe that one spouse had authority to act on behalf of the other. Here, we are dealing with the Yaugers’ joint interest in the companionship of their beloved daughter. Michael completed the season pass application on behalf of his whole family and paid the appropriate sum. Absent any evidence that Brenda informed Hidden Valley that she was not bound by this agreement, the Yaugers should both be held by the terms of the application.

By the Court.–Judgment affirmed.

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Indiana decision upholds release signed by mother for claims of an injured daughter for the inherent risks of softball. However, language of the decision may apply to well written releases to stop all claims for negligence.

Decision appears to add Indiana to the list of states were a parent can sign away a minor’s right to sue for injuries.

Wabash County Young Men’s Christian Association, Inc. v. Thompson, 2012 Ind. App. LEXIS 428

Date of the Decision: August 31, 2012

Plaintiff: Wabash County Young Men’s Christian Association, Inc. f/k/a Wabash Community Service, Appellant-Defendant

Defendant: Taylor M. Thompson, a minor, by next friends, Brian Thompson and Charlene Thompson

Plaintiff (Defendant on Appeal) Claims: negligent and violated its duty to protect Taylor by its failure to inspect, warn, and implement preventive measures designed to eliminate or reduce dangers posed by the condition of the second base “such that it was fixed as a rigid obstacle for participants to encounter while sliding into the base and, thereby, posing a clear safety hazard

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: Release signed by the mother of the injured plaintiff (defendant on appeal) barred claims for the inherent risks of playing softball

Again, the plaintiff on appeal was the defendant in the trial court. The defendant at the trial court level filed a motion to dismiss. The motion was denied, and the defendant appealed that decision. Because of that timeline, the defendant became the plaintiff on appeal. Because of the confusion, I’ll just refer to the parties by their names: YMCA and Thompson.

The mother of Thompson, 17 years old at the time of her injury, signed a release to allow her daughter to play softball. The release was quite bad. It did not contain solid language, the word release, or explain any risks except the inherent risks of softball. The trial court rejected the YMCA’s argument and denied its motion for summary judgment based on the release.

The YMCA appealed the decision to the Indiana Appellate Court which reversed the decision.

Of note and of interest, Indian defines negligence in three steps, not the normal four steps as defined by the appellate court in this case.

In order to prevail on a claim of negligence, a plaintiff is required to prove:

(1) a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff;

(2) a breach of that duty by the defendant; and

(3) an injury to the plaintiff proximately caused by the breach.”

Basically, Indiana combines the majority third and fourth step into Indiana’s third step to define the requirements to prove negligence.

Summary of the case

Thompson first argued that an Indiana statute required any release for a minor to be approved by the court before it became effective. Many states require court approval of the settlement of the claims of minors.

The court quickly dismissed this argument because the statute in question was part of the probate law of Indiana and only dealt with post injury claims. Thompson did not raise any other arguments against the release so the court declared the release valid.

The court then went through the requirements for a valid release under Indiana’s law.

It is well established in Indiana that exculpatory agreements are not against public policy. “Generally, parties are permitted to agree that a party owes no obligation of care for the benefit of another, and thus, shall not be liable for consequences that would otherwise be considered negligent.” However, this court has held that an exculpatory clause will not act to absolve a party from liability unless it “‘specifically and explicitly refer[s] to the negligence of the party seeking release from liability.'” An exculpatory clause may be found sufficiently specific and explicit on the issue of negligence even in the absence of the word itself. Furthermore, an exculpatory clause not referring to the negligence of the releasee may act to bar liability for those damages incurred which are inherent in the nature of the activity.

Of greater note was this statement from the court. “The requirement of specificity is only necessary when the risk of harm is a latent danger, i.e. the defendant’s own negligence.”

This may lead you to believe, and I believe properly that a properly written release would top a minor’s claim for negligence under Indiana Law.

The court concluded the release signed by the mother did not release the YMCA for all negligent acts because it was written so poorly. However, it will release the YMCA for what was stated in the release, the inherent risks of softball.

The court then reviewed whether sliding into a base was an inherent risk of softball.

Sliding into second base, notwithstanding its rigidity, is an activity inherent in the nature of playing baseball or softball and we conclude that Taylor’s injury was derived from a risk inherent in the nature of the activity.

So Now What?

It appears that Indiana will allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue. A well-written release, including the magic word negligence, which identifies the risks other than the inherent risks, would stop a claim for negligence.

A well-written release would have eliminated half of this decision, maybe even the appeal. If the proper language, the magic word negligence and a broader definition of the risks were in the release, this case would have been decided faster and with less worthy.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Wabash County Young Men’s Christian Association, Inc. v. Thompson, 2012 Ind. App. LEXIS 428

Wabash County Young Men’s Christian Association, Inc. v. Thompson, 2012 Ind. App. LEXIS 428

Wabash County Young Men’s Christian Association, Inc. f/k/a Wabash Community Service, Appellant-Defendant, vs. Taylor M. Thompson, a minor, by next friends, Brian Thompson and Charlene Thompson, Appellees-Plaintiffs.

No. 85A05-1203-CT-138

COURT OF APPEALS OF INDIANA

2012 Ind. App. LEXIS 428

August 31, 2012, Decided

August 31, 2012, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]

APPEAL FROM THE WABASH CIRCUIT COURT. The Honorable Robert R. McCallen, III, Judge. Cause No. 85C01-1110-CT-839.

COUNSEL: FOR APPELLANT: RANDALL W. GRAFF, ORFEJ P. NAJDESKI, LESLIE B. POLLIE, Kopka, Pinkus, Dolin & Eads, LLC, Indianapolis, Indiana.

FOR APPELLEES: JOSEF MUSSER, Spitzer Herriman Stephenson, Holderead Musser & Conner, LLP, Marion, Indiana.

JUDGES: BROWN, Judge. FRIEDLANDER, J., and PYLE, J., concur.

OPINION BY: BROWN

OPINION

OPINION – FOR PUBLICATION

BROWN, Judge

Wabash County Young Men’s Christian Association, Inc., (“YMCA”) appeals the trial court’s order denying its motion for summary judgment. The YMCA raises one issue which we revise and restate as whether the trial court erred in denying the YMCA’s motion for summary judgment. We reverse.

The relevant facts follow. On October 13, 2011, Taylor Thompson, by next friends Brian Thompson and Charlene Thompson, filed a complaint against the YMCA alleging that she was at the premises known as the Field of Dreams which was owned by the YMCA on May 28, 2009, and was injured when she slid into second base while participating in the Wabash Metro Summer Baseball/Softball League.1 The complaint alleged that the YMCA was negligent and violated its duty to protect Taylor [*2] by its failure to inspect, warn, and implement preventive measures designed to eliminate or reduce dangers posed by the condition of the second base “such that it was fixed as a rigid obstacle for participants to encounter while sliding into the base and, thereby, posing a clear safety hazard.” Appellant’s Appendix at 7. The complaint alleged that Taylor suffered serious and permanent physical injury.

1 The complaint indicated that Taylor was seventeen years old at the time of the filing of the complaint.

On November 22, 2011, the YMCA filed a Motion to Dismiss And/Or Change of Venue Pursuant to Trial Rule 12(B)(6). The YMCA alleged that Charlene, Taylor’s mother, executed a contractual document for Taylor’s participation in the Wabash Metro Summer Baseball/Softball League, and the YMCA attached the document to the motion. The form contains the following statement:

I (parent or guardian) Charlene Thompson hereby give permission for Taylor Thompson to participate in Metro League Baseball/Softball. I further understand that injuries can occur and will not hold the field, sponsor, coaching staff or league responsible for injury or medical expenses incurred while participating in practice [*3] or playing in a game. I also affirm that my child is physically fit to participate in athletic activities.

Id. at 12. The YMCA alleged that Taylor contractually agreed that there was an inherent risk to her participation in the softball game that could result in injury and that she contractually agreed that she would hold the YMCA, as alleged owner of the field, harmless for any injuries or medical expenses resulting from such injuries.

On December 22, 2011, Taylor filed a response to the YMCA’s motion to dismiss and argued that “in the case of minors, a person claiming tort damages on behalf of the minor against another person has power to execute a release on the minor’s behalf, however, the release must be approved by the Court before being effective.” Appellant’s Appendix at 14. Taylor also alleged that the document YMCA relies upon did not contemplate an injury from the negligent maintenance of the property, rather, it contemplates the foreseeable injuries which can inherently occur while playing baseball or softball. Taylor argued that the YMCA was not a party to the understanding evidenced by the document.

On December 30, 2011, the court held a hearing on the YMCA’s motion. On [*4] January 18, 2012, the court denied the YMCA’s motion to dismiss. On February 16, 2012, the YMCA filed a motion to certify the interlocutory order, which the court granted on February 21, 2012. On April 16, 2012, this court accepted jurisdiction pursuant to Ind. Appellate Rule 14(B).

The issue is whether the trial court erred by denying summary judgment to the YMCA. Initially, we note that the YMCA’s motion to dismiss was filed pursuant to Ind. Trial Rule 12(B)(6) and attached the form completed by Taylor’s mother. Therefore, we will review the YMCA’s motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment. [HN1] See Ind. Trial Rule 12(B) (“If, on a motion, asserting the defense number (6), to dismiss for failure of the pleading to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, matters outside the pleading are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment and disposed of as provided in Rule 56.”); New Albany-Floyd Cnty. Educ. Ass’n v. Ammerman, 724 N.E.2d 251, 255 n.7 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000) (“Although the trial court specifically granted Holman’s motion to dismiss and did not rule on his motion for summary judgment, we must nevertheless treat [*5] the former as a motion for summary judgment on review.”); Galbraith v. Planning Dep’t of City of Anderson, 627 N.E.2d 850, 852 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994) (treating the trial court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s complaint as a summary judgment for the defendant when plaintiff submitted an affidavit and the trial court acknowledged that it considered matters outside the pleadings).

[HN2] Summary judgment is appropriate only where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Ind. Trial Rule 56(C); Mangold ex rel. Mangold v. Ind. Dep’t of Natural Res., 756 N.E.2d 970, 973 (Ind. 2001). All facts and reasonable inferences drawn from those facts are construed in favor of the nonmovant. Mangold, 756 N.E.2d at 973. [HN3] Our review of a summary judgment motion is limited to those materials designated to the trial court. Id. [HN4] We must carefully review a decision on summary judgment to ensure that a party was not improperly denied its day in court. Id. at 974. [HN5] “[A] motion for summary judgment that is unopposed should be granted only if the designated materials, regardless of whether they stand unopposed by materials designated by the nonmovant, warrant it.” [*6] Starks v. Village Green Apartments, 854 N.E.2d 411, 415 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), abrogated on other grounds by Klotz v. Hoyt, 900 N.E.2d 1 (Ind. 2009).

[HN6] In reviewing a grant of summary judgment we face the same issues as the trial court and follow the same process. Klinker v. First Merchants Bank, N.A., 964 N.E.2d 190, 193 (Ind. 2012). [HN7] Under Trial Rule 56(C), the moving party bears the burden of making a prima facie showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. If it is successful, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to designate evidence establishing the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id.

[HN8] “In order to prevail on a claim of negligence, a plaintiff is required to prove: (1) a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff; (2) a breach of that duty by the defendant; and (3) an injury to the plaintiff proximately caused by the breach.” Peters v. Forster, 804 N.E.2d 736, 738 (Ind. 2004). [HN9] In negligence cases, summary judgment is “rarely appropriate.” Rhodes v. Wright, 805 N.E.2d 382, 387 (Ind. 2004). “This is because negligence cases are particularly fact sensitive and are governed by a standard of the [*7] objective reasonable person–one best applied by a jury after hearing all of the evidence.” Id. Nevertheless, a defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law when the undisputed material facts negate at least one element of the plaintiff’s claim. Id. at 385.

We initially address Taylor’s argument that while Indiana law requires that a parent claiming tort damages on behalf of a minor against another person has power to execute a release on the minor’s behalf, the release must be approved by the court to be valid. Taylor cites Ind. Code § 29-3-9-7(b) which provides:

[HN10] Whenever a minor has a disputed claim against another person, whether arising in contract, tort, or otherwise, and a guardian for the minor and the minor’s property has not been appointed, the parents of the minor may compromise the claim. However, before the compromise is valid, it must be approved by the court upon filing of a petition requesting the court’s approval. If the court approves the compromise, it may direct that the settlement be paid in accordance with IC 29-3-3-1. If IC 29-3-3-1 is not applicable, the court shall require that a guardian be appointed and that the settlement be delivered to the guardian [*8] upon the terms that the court directs.

Taylor argues that “[n]o Indiana statute, rule, or decision authorizes a parent of a minor to sign a pre-tort waiver.” Appellee’s Brief at 5. Taylor also argues that “the Indiana statute requiring court approval of minor’s claim settlement arises out of a public policy of favoring protection of minors with respect to contractual obligations” and “[t]he statute guards minors against improvident compromises made by their parents.” Id.

The YMCA argues that Taylor’s reliance on Ind. Code § 29-3-9-7(b) “is misplaced and has no bearing on the subject matter at issue in this case, which involves a vastly different legal scenario having nothing to do with probating a disputed claim a minor has against another person.” Appellant’s Brief at 8. The YMCA also argues that if Taylor’s argument is accepted, it would render all releases signed by parents to allow their children to participate in school and sporting events ineffective and meaningless. The YMCA contends that “[i]t would be impossible for parents to obtain court approval for every release or hold harmless agreement for every club, hobby, camp, and sporting activity for each of their children.” Id. at 9.

We [*9] observe that the referenced statute governs a post-injury claim and falls under Title 29, which governs probate law, and not the issue in this case. Further, Taylor does not point to any other authority indicating that the release form was invalid. Under the circumstances, we conclude that the release form is valid. See Bellew v. Byers, 272 Ind. 37, 38, 396 N.E.2d 335, 336 (1979) (addressing a minor’s compromise claim in which the parent and natural guardian was paid an amount for the injuries to her three children in return for a release), abrogated on other grounds by Huffman v. Monroe Cnty. Cmty. Sch. Corp., 588 N.E.2d 1264 (Ind. 1992); Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 82 Ohio St. 3d 367, 1998 Ohio 389, 696 N.E.2d 201, 206-207 (Ohio 1998) (holding that it was not appropriate to equate a pre-injury release with a post-injury release and that parents have the authority to bind their minor children to exculpatory agreements in favor of volunteers and sponsors of nonprofit sport activites where the cause of action sounds in negligence).

We next turn to whether the release applies to Taylor’s injury. The YMCA argues that the release form applies to Taylor’s action of sliding into second base during the softball game. [*10] The YMCA also argues that “one can take almost any on-field mishap and seek to couch it in terms of negligence by arguing for more padding, softer playing surfaces, rule changes, etc., but the fact remains that the injury arose because of a risk inherent in the game.” Appellant’s Reply Brief at 3. Taylor argues that the YMCA’s repeated reference to her injury being the result of her sliding into second base without referencing the accompanying allegations of the complaint that the injury was caused by the negligent maintenance of the second base is a glaring omission throughout the YMCA’s argument.

“It is well established in Indiana that [HN11] exculpatory agreements are not against public policy.” Stowers v. Clinton Cent. Sch. Corp., 855 N.E.2d 739, 749 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), trans. denied. [HN12] “Generally, parties are permitted to agree that a party owes no obligation of care for the benefit of another, and thus, shall not be liable for consequences that would otherwise be considered negligent.” Marsh v. Dixon, 707 N.E.2d 998, 1000 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999), trans. denied. However, this court has held that an exculpatory clause will not act to absolve a party from liability unless it “‘specifically [*11] and explicitly refer[s] to the negligence of the party seeking release from liability.'” Id. (quoting Powell v. Am. Health Fitness Ctr. of Fort Wayne, Inc., 694 N.E.2d 757, 761 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998)). [HN13] An exculpatory clause may be found sufficiently specific and explicit on the issue of negligence even in the absence of the word itself. Anderson v. Four Seasons Equestrian Ctr., Inc., 852 N.E.2d 576, 581 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), trans. denied. Furthermore, [HN14] an exculpatory clause not referring to the negligence of the releasee may act to bar liability for those damages incurred which are inherent in the nature of the activity. Id. [HN15] The requirement of specificity is only necessary when the risk of harm is a latent danger, i.e. the defendant’s own negligence. Id. at 581-582.

The form signed by Taylor’s mother did not release the YMCA of liability for all negligent acts because the form did not contain any specific or explicit reference to the negligence of the YMCA or owner of the field. See Stowers, 855 N.E.2d at 749 (“The Stowers’ proposed instruction set out that the Release Forms did not absolve Clinton Central of liability for negligent acts if they did not contain language specifically referring [*12] to negligence; thus, it was a correct statement of the law.”). Thus, we must determine whether Taylor’s injury was derived from a risk inherent in the nature of the activity. See Anderson, 852 N.E.2d at 581 (holding that an exculpatory clause not referring to the negligence of the releasee may act to bar liability for those damages incurred which are inherent in the nature of the activity).

Sliding into second base, notwithstanding its rigidity, is an activity inherent in the nature of playing baseball or softball and we conclude that Taylor’s injury was derived from a risk inherent in the nature of the activity. See id. at 584-585 (observing that the plaintiff was injured when attempting to mount her horse and concluding that the plaintiff’s damages were inherent in the nature of the activity of horse riding and that the trial court did not err by granting summary judgment to the defendants). The release attached to the YMCA’s motion to dismiss indicated that the owner of the field would not be responsible for any injury or medical expenses “incurred while participating in practice or playing in a game.” Appellant’s Appendix at 12. Based upon the language in the release, we conclude [*13] that the YMCA met its burden of making a prima facie showing that there were no genuine issues of material fact and that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law and that the burden then shifted to Taylor who did not designate any evidence to show that an issue of material fact existed. Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court erred by denying the YMCA’s motion for summary judgment.

For the foregoing reasons, we reverse the trial court’s denial of the YMCA’s motion for summary judgment.

Reversed.

FRIEDLANDER, J., and PYLE, J., concur.

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States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue

If your state is not listed here, you should assume a parent cannot waive a minor’s right to sue in your state.

State

By Statute

Restrictions

Alaska

Alaska: Sec. 09.65.292

Sec. 05.45.120 does not allow using a release by ski areas for ski injuries

Arizona

ARS § 12-553

Limited to Equine Activities

Colorado

C.R.S. §§13-22-107

Release stops suit for falling off horse at Colorado summer Camp

Florida

Florida Statute § 744.301 (3)

New Florida law allows a parent to sign away a child’s right to sue for injuries

 

By Case Law

 

California

Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist., 224 Cal.App.3d 1559, 274 Cal.Rptr. 647 (1990)

 

Delaware

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

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

Delaware holds that mothers signature on contract forces change of venue for minors claims.

Florida

Global Travel Marketing, Inc v. Shea, 2005 Fla. LEXIS 1454

Allows a release signed by a parent to require arbitration of the minor’s claims

Florida

Gonzalez v. City of Coral Gables, 871 So.2d 1067, 29 Fla. L. Weekly D1147

Release can be used for volunteer activities and by government entities

Maryland

BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc. v. Rosen, 435 Md. 714; 80 A.3d 345; 2013 Md. LEXIS 897

Release upheld for injury to 5 year old in chair care area of store while parents shopped.

Massachusetts

Sharon v. City of Newton, 437 Mass. 99; 769 N.E.2d 738; 2002 Mass. LEXIS 384

 

Minnesota

Moore vs. Minnesota Baseball Instructional School, 2009 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 299

Minnesota decision upholds parent’s right to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

North Dakota

McPhail v. Bismarck Park District, 2003 ND 4; 655 N.W.2d 411; 2003 N.D. LEXIS 3

North Dakota decision allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue

Ohio

Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 696 N.E.2d 201, 82 Ohio St.3d 367 (1998)

Ohio Appellate decision upholds the use of a release for a minor for a commercial activity

Wisconsin

Osborn v. Cascade Mountain, Inc., 655 N.W.2d 546, 259 Wis. 2d 481, 2002 Wisc. App. LEXIS 1216, 2003 WI App 1

However the decision in Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4; 2005 Wisc. LEXIS 2 voided all releases in the state

 

On the Edge, but not enough to really rely on

 

North Carolina

Kelly v. United States of America, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89741

Ruling is by the Federal District Court and only a preliminary motion

North Carolina may allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue for injuries when the minor is engaged in non-profit activities sponsored by schools, volunteers, or community organizations

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Maryland top court allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue. Release was not fantastic, but good enough.

Parent’s signed a release to drop kids off at a “kids’ club” while they shopped in the defendant’s store (wholesale club). The release was in the agreement to use the club. Also included in the agreement was an indemnification clause which the court did not rule on.

BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc. v. Rosen, 435 Md. 714; 80 A.3d 345; 2013 Md. LEXIS 897

Date of the Decision: November 27, 2013

Plaintiff: (Original) Russell Rosen, et. al.

Defendant: (Original) BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Defendant had a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect its patrons in the play area from injury. Defendant agents and employees knew or should have known that placing an elevated play structure directly over carpet adhered to a concrete floor would pose a danger to children playing there. Defendant breached its duty of care by placing.

Defendant Defenses: Release and indemnification

Holding: For the defendant (plaintiff in the appeal)

In this Maryland Supreme Court decision, the party named first in the citation to the case is the party that appealed the lower-court opinion. So the original defendant is the party that appealed the decision in the last court and thus is listed as the plaintiff in the citation.

The defendant is a wholesale club. Generally, you pay a yearly fee to shop in the club which sells items for lower prices. As an incentive, this club had a play area called the BJ’s Incredible Kids’ Club. To be able to leave your kids at the club while you shopped you had to sign “BJ’s Incredible Kids’ Club Rules.”

The rules contained a release and indemnification clause.

In the kid’s club, there was an elevated plastic play apparatus called Harry the Hippo. Harry the Hippo was approximately 38” high at its peak. The injured plaintiff was a five-year-old boy who fell off the hippo landing on the floor. The floor was carpeted with no padding covering concrete. The young boy suffered a severe “acute epidural hematoma.” This required surgery to save his life.

The family sued. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint based on the release. The next level of court in Maryland, the Court of Special Appeals, reversed the trial court. The case was appealed and accepted by the highest court, in this case the Court of Appeals of Maryland.

Summary of the case

The court first examined the club agreement which contained the release. The release language was just one paragraph long but did contain a clause which released the negligence of the club. The agreement also had rules, one of which was you could not leave your kid in the club for more than 90 minutes.

Right below the release, or exculpatory clause as it was called by the court, was an indemnification clause. The indemnification clause was in smaller font but printed in bold right above the signature line.

The court then worked through the requirements for releases to be valid in Maryland as reviewed by the lower courts in their decisions.

Generally, Maryland Courts will uphold exculpatory clauses that are executed by adults on their own behalf. “There are circumstances, however, under which the public interest will not permit an exculpatory clause in a contract.” “Public policy will not permit exculpatory agreements in transactions affecting the public interest.” “The ultimate determination of what constitutes the public interest must be made considering the totality of the circumstances of any given case against the backdrop of current societal expectations.”

The court then specifically reviewed exculpatory clauses under Maryland law.

An exculpatory clause is a “contractual provision relieving a party from liability resulting from a negligent or wrongful act.” By entering into an exculpatory agreement, “the parties expressly . . . agree in advance that the defendant is under no obligation of care for the benefit of the plaintiff, and shall not be liable for the consequences of conduct which would otherwise be negligent.”

…”[i]n the absence of legislation to the contrary, exculpatory clauses are generally valid, and the public policy of freedom of contract is best served by enforcing the provisions of the clause.” We also have opined that exculpatory clauses are to be construed strictly, requiring that the language of any such clause “clearly and specifically indicates the intent to release the defendant from liability for personal injury caused by the defendant’s negligence.”

The court then reviewed when exculpatory clauses would not be upheld in Maryland. An exculpatory will not protect from liability from intentional harm or extreme forms of negligence. Extreme forms of negligence are generally referred to herein as greater than normal negligence and in Maryland include reckless, wanton or gross negligence.

Second an exculpatory clause cannot be part of a contract that was the product of grossly unequal bargaining power. That means when a party has no choice but to sign the agreement, because that person has no bargaining power so that he is at the mercy of the other’s negligence.

Remember, for the argument of unequal bargaining power to be a valid defense to a release, the agreement must be for something necessary for the health, welfare or safety of the person signing the agreement. Baby sitting or recreational activities are not such necessities that create a true unequal bargaining power that would void a release.

The final group that would void a release are transactions affecting the public interest. Transactions affecting the public interest seem to be very similar to the unequal bargaining power argument, but are viewed by the court from the context of why rather than who. Two were not at issue in this case; public service obligations such as an agreement between a consumer and an electric company and “other transactions “so important to the public good that an exculpatory clause would be patently offensive.”” The example the court gave to explain the second type of contract was in the reverse; an agreement between a health club and a consumer “of no great public importance or practical necessity.”

The court went into depth is reasoning on rejecting the public service obligation because it was the basis for the dissent in the case from two other justices.

The third category of public service exceptions to releases, the court and the dissent stated were not easily defined. In a prior Maryland case, this exception was developed by referring to the California decision in Tunkl v. Regents of University of California, 60 Cal. 2d 92, 32 Cal. Rptr. 33, 383 P.2d 441, 444-46 (Cal. 1963). However, the court found that Tunkl was not valid in defining this exception.

We declined, however, to adopt the Tunkl factors, determining that the “fluid nature of the public interest” renders strict reliance on “the presence or absence of six fixed factors” arbitrary and inappropriate. We recognized, instead, that while the factors may be persuasive to evaluate the public interest, “[t]he ultimate determination of what constitutes the public interest must be made considering the totality of the circumstances of any given case against the backdrop of current societal expectations.”

The best description the court could identify was “societal expectations.” These expectations are best found by looking at the statute and common law. Here the court examined the laws defining the relationship between the parent and the child. Under Maryland law, the parents are given almost absolute control over the acts, welfare, growth and raising of their child. The presumption in Maryland is the parents are going to act in the best interest of the child.

The societal expectation that parents should make significant decisions pertaining to a child’s welfare is manifest in statutes that enable parents to exercise their authority on behalf of their minor child in the most important aspects of a child’s life, including significant physical and mental health decisions. Parents are empowered, on behalf of their children to: consent to medical treatment, consent to having their children give blood, consent to the use of a tanning device by their child, and to authorize another family member to consent to the immunization of a minor child. Parents are also empowered to commit a child, under certain conditions, to: a public or private service that provides treatment for individuals with mental disorders, as well as a private therapeutic group home that provides access to a range of diagnostic and therapeutic mental health services.

Parents also are empowered to permit a fifteen to seventeen-year old child to marry.” Based on the court’s review of these and other statutes, the court found parents in Maryland were empowered to make significant decisions on behalf of children. The next argument was then whether the courts had a duty or obligation to step in and replace the decision making of a parent and when.

The major argument to support this argument is courts in Maryland approve settlements affecting children who were injured as plaintiffs in lawsuits. This is normal in most states and has been developed for many reasons; the main one is to prevent a negligent defendant from taking advantage of a naïve or unknowing parent. However, in Maryland there were exceptions to this law, which allowed parents to settle some claims without judicial review. Based on that exception the court found this argument was not controlling.

We conclude, therefore, that Mr. Rosen’s execution of an exculpatory agreement on behalf of Ephraim to allow him to use the Kids’ Club was not a transaction affecting the public interest within the meaning of Wolf, which otherwise would have impugned the effect of the agreement.

The next argument presented by the injured parties was a commercial entity was better able to bear the risk of loss by purchasing insurance than these parents. The court found several flaws with this argument. Basically, was who was going to determine what a commercial enterprise was. The court used this example to make its point.

For example, is a Boy Scout or Girl Scout, YMCA, or church camp a commercial establishment or a community-based activity? Is a band trip to participate in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade a school or commercial activity? What definition of commercial is to be applied?

The final argument was that the state had a parens patriae obligation to the children of the state. Parens patriae is the legal power of the state to protect those who do not have the legal authority to protect themselves. Minor’s incapacitated adults or adults who mental status is not at the state’s minimum level.

However, under Maryland law the obligation of the state under parens patriae only arises if the parental rights have been abrogated pursuant to a statute. No statute required the courts to intervene, and no statute had removed the injured minor from the legal authority of his parents. Finally, parens patriae is applied when a minor has been adjudicated or become involved in the juvenile delinquency system, which was not present in this case.

The court reversed the lower court’s ruling and sent the case back to the trial court for dismissal.

So Now What?

Maryland now joins the slowing growing ranks of states that allow a parent to sign a release and give up their minor child’s right to sue.

For a complete list see: States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Moore v. Minnesota Baseball Instructional School, 2009 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 299

Moore v. Minnesota Baseball Instructional School, 2009 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 299

Terry Moore, as father and natural guardian for minor, Thaddeus J. Moore, Appellant, vs. Minnesota Baseball Instructional School, Respondent.

A08-0845

COURT OF APPEALS OF MINNESOTA

2009 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 299

March 31, 2009, Filed

NOTICE: THIS OPINION WILL BE UNPUBLISHED AND MAY NOT BE CITED EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY MINNESOTA STATUTES.

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]

Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-CV-07-11022.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

COUNSEL: For Appellant: Wilbur W. Fluegel, Fluegel Law Office, Minneapolis, MN; and Stuart L. Goldenberg, Goldenberg & Johnson, Minneapolis, MN.

For Respondent: Marianne Settano, Theresa Bofferding, Law Office of Settano & Van Cleave, Bloomington, MN.

JUDGES: Considered and decided by Worke, Presiding Judge; Hudson, Judge; and Connolly, Judge.

OPINION BY: CONNOLLY

OPINION

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

CONNOLLY, Judge

Appellant Terry Moore initiated this negligence action in district court on behalf of his minor son, T.J., following an incident in which T.J.’s eye was permanently injured while T.J. was participating in a baseball camp operated by respondent Minnesota Baseball Instructional School. The district court granted summary judgment to respondent. Because appellant had signed a valid agreement releasing respondent from liability for T.J.’s injury prior to enrolling in the camp, we affirm.

FACTS

Respondent operates summer baseball-instructional camps for students of varying ages. T.J. participated in one of respondent’s camps during June 2005. The camp was located on the grounds of the University of Minnesota. On the camp’s final day, students walked from Siebert baseball [*2] stadium to Sanford residence hall to have lunch. When the students were done eating lunch, they were given the option of going to a television lounge in the residence hall or going to the residence hall’s courtyard. T.J. and a number of other students went to the courtyard to play. While in the courtyard, students began throwing woodchips at each other. T.J. sustained a permanent eye injury when he was struck by a woodchip thrown by another student.

After T.J.’s father initiated suit, respondent moved the district court for summary judgment, arguing that an exculpatory clause contained in the camp’s registration materials insulated it from liability. The district court agreed with respondent and granted summary judgment. Appellant contends that the district court erred because there are material facts in dispute. Specifically, appellant argues that there are fact issues as to whether T.J.’s mother signed the emergency medical information form in question and whether the form contained the exculpatory clause as it is described by respondent. Appellant also contends that, if it does exist, then the district court erred in interpreting and upholding the exculpatory clause in the release. [*3] This appeal follows.

DECISION

[HN1] “On an appeal from summary judgment, we ask two questions: (1) whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and (2) whether the [district] court[] erred in [its] application of the law.” State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990). “[T]here is no genuine issue of material fact for trial when the nonmoving party presents evidence which merely creates a metaphysical doubt as to a factual issue and which is not sufficiently probative with respect to an essential element of the nonmoving party’s case to permit reasonable persons to draw different conclusions.” DLH, Inc. v. Russ, 566 N.W.2d 60, 71 (Minn. 1997).

I. It is not in dispute that T.J.’s mother signed the assumption-of-risk-and-release agreement.

Respondent was unable to produce the assumption-of-risk agreement and release signed by T.J.’s mother. Appellant contends that, because of this, there is a material factual dispute about whether T.J.’s mother signed the agreement.

Lee Swanson is respondent’s director. In his deposition, Swanson was asked about the method through which participants sign up for respondent’s camp. He explained that parents have the option of enrolling their children [*4] online, and that T.J.’s mother used this process to enroll her son. In order to enroll her son, T.J.’s mother first went to the camp’s website and filled out the enrollment form online. After filling out the form online, T.J.’s mother clicked on a link that submitted the enrollment form. Respondent has been able to produce a document generated from the camp’s archives as confirmation that T.J.’s mother filled out the enrollment form. Swanson testified that this document was based on information that is sent to the camp electronically upon the completion of a student’s enrollment form. Swanson testified that the camp does not receive the actual completed enrollment form.

Respondent has also produced a spreadsheet containing the roster of students who participated in the June 2005 camp that lists T.J. as a camp participant. Respondents were unable to produce a copy of the online enrollment form that T.J.’s mother filled out; however, they were able to produce a 2007 version of the enrollment form, and Swanson testified it was the same as the 2005 version that T.J.’s mother would have filled out:

ATTORNEY: I’m showing you what has been purported to in your interrogatory answers to be the [*5] summer camp enrollment [form] of ’07 which was the same — there’s a little note that says same as ’05; is that correct?

SWANSON: That’s correct.

ATTORNEY: That’s Exhibit Number 5? 1

SWANSON: Correct.

ATTORNEY: Do you recall anything different about this particular enrollment form from the one that existed in ’05?

SWANSON: That is the same.

1 Exhibit 5 is a copy of the 2007 summer enrollment form.

Swanson was next questioned about an emergency medical form that a student’s parent must sign before that student is allowed to participate in the camp:

ATTORNEY: This is Exhibit Number 7, can you identify what that is for us, please?

SWANSON: This is our emergency medical information form that a parent or guardian has to fill out, it gives specific information about primary contacts, about medical histories, about emergency contacts, it also gives information provided for policy numbers, insurance in case we have to ship the kid to the emergency room for some problem. Also it has a Recognition and Assumption of Risk Agreement that the parent or guardian has to sign along with the camper’s signature.

ATTORNEY: Is this something that’s on-line or is this sent to the parents to sign?

SWANSON: It is available [*6] on-line, but every kid that registers gets an e-mail sent, an attachment with this.

ATTORNEY: Do you have a specific copy of this that the Moores actually signed?

SWANSON: We were not able to retrieve it. Generally I have to destroy these because of valuable information or personal information on these.

ATTORNEY: Okay.

. . . .

ATTORNEY: Do you know for certain that this form was in place as of June of ’05?

SWANSON: Yes.

ATTORNEY: What happens if you don’t get a copy of this form

SWANSON: Kid cannot participate in camp.

ATTORNEY: So it is fair to say that your testimony is going to be that even though you couldn’t find a copy of this if he showed up to camp without his parents signing it he would not be allowed to participant

SWANSON: Correct.

ATTORNEY: So is it fair to say that you can make that assumption then that they did sign this agreement?

SWANSON: Yes.

ATTORNEY Okay. That’s Exhibit Number Seven?

SWANSON: Yes.

(Emphasis added.)

Exhibit seven contains the assumption-of-risk agreement that is at the heart of this appeal. It, under the headline “RECOGNITION & ASSUMPTION OF RISK AGREEMENT,” reads:

I, the undersigned parent/legal guardian of , authorize said child’s participation in the Minnesota [*7] Baseball Instructional School (MBIS) camp. It is my understanding that participation in the activities that make up MBIS is not without some inherent risk of injury. As such, in consideration of my child’s participation in the MBIS camp, I hereby release, waive, discharge, and covenant not to sue the MBIS and any and all Directors, Officers, and Instructors and the Regents of the University of Minnesota and its Directors, Officers, or Employee from any and all liability, claims, demands, action, and causes of action whatsoever arising out of or related to any loss, damage, or injury including death, that may be sustained by my child, whether caused by the negligence of the releases, or otherwise while participating in such activity, or while in, or upon the premises where the activity is being conducted.

The following colloquy occurred when respondent’s attorney questioned T.J.’s mother about the assumption-of-risk agreement:

QUESTION: Okay. I’m showing you what’s been marked Deposition Exhibit No. 2. Do you recognize that document?

ANSWER: I don’t recall it specifically.

QUESTION: Do you recall that that is an emergency medical information — or should I say — let me rephrase that. Do [*8] you recall filling out a health information form and emergency medical form for T.J. to attend the Minnesota Baseball Instructional School in either 2004 or 2005?

ANSWER: I don’t recall.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you deny having filled out an emergency form for T.J.?

ANSWER: I must have.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m going to ask you to look at both pages of that form and see if you recognize that form.

ANSWER: I don’t recall the form.

QUESTION: Okay. I’d like you specifically to read the second page of the form, recognition and assumption of risk agreement, and I’d like you to read that to yourself and tell me if you recognize that.

ANSWER: I don’t recall the form.

QUESTION: Do you deny having filled it out

ANSWER: I do not deny it, I just don’t recall.

(Emphasis added.)

Based on the above deposition testimony, there is no material fact in dispute that T.J.’s mother signed the emergency medical form containing the assumption of risk agreement. Swanson testified that the 2007 enrollment form he produced was the same as the 2005 version that T.J.’s mother would have used. He was able to produce a document generated from archived enrollment data that indicates T.J. enrolled in the camp. He was also able to produce [*9] a roster, containing T.J.’s name, of children who participated in the 2005 camp. Finally, he produced a copy of an emergency medical form that is e-mailed to parents upon completion of the enrollment form. He testified that this was the same version of the emergency medical form that was in place in 2005. He testified that a student would not be allowed to participate in the camp unless the emergency medical form was signed and returned to respondent. The emergency medical form contained the assumption-of-risk agreement with the release language.

T.J.’s mother does not deny filling out the emergency medical form containing the assumption-of-risk agreement. She only states that she does not recall filling it out but admits that she must have filled it out. Because she does not claim that she did not fill out the emergency medical form, and because Swanson testified that she did fill out the form, it is simply not in dispute that T.J.’s mother filled out the form. Appellant argues, in essence, that the district court made a credibility determination in giving greater weight to Swanson’s testimony than to T.J.’s mother. This is not the case because Swanson’s testimony and T.J.’s mother’s [*10] testimony are not in conflict. Swanson testified that T.J.’s mother filled out the emergency medical form. T.J.’s mother’s testimony does not contradict Swanson’s testimony; she only states that she does not remember filling it out, but that she must have filled it out, and that she does not deny doing so.

Finally, the text of the assumption-of-risk agreement is not in dispute. Swanson produced the 2007 version of the agreement and testified that the 2007 version is the same as the 2005 version. Appellant disputes this in his brief, but points to no evidence that contradicts this testimony. T.J.’s father did not present any evidence that the emergency medical form produced by respondent was different from the 2005 agreement that she “must have” filled out. In sum, there are no material facts in dispute. The district court did not make any credibility determinations and did not weigh the evidence. It simply applied the law to undisputed facts.

II. The exculpatory clause releases respondent from liability for any damage resulting from T.J.’s injury.

[HN2] “The interpretation of a contract is a question of law if no ambiguity exists, but if ambiguous, it is a question of fact . . . .” City of Va. v. Northland Office Props. Ltd. P’ship, 465 N.W.2d 424, 427 (Minn. App. 1991), [*11] review denied (Minn. Apr. 18, 1991).

[HN3] It is settled Minnesota law that, under certain circumstances, “parties to a contract may, without violation of public policy, protect themselves against liability resulting from their own negligence.” Schlobohm v. Spa Petite, Inc., 326 N.W.2d 920, 922-23 (Minn. 1982). The “public interest in freedom of contract is preserved by recognizing [release and exculpatory] clauses as valid.” Id. at 923. (citing N. Pac. Ry. v. Thornton Bros., 206 Minn. 193, 196, 288 N.W. 226, 227 (1939)). But releases of liability are not favored by the law and are strictly construed against the benefited party. Id. “If the clause is either ambiguous in scope or purports to release the benefited party from liability for intentional, willful or wanton acts, it will not be enforced.” Id.

Appellant contends the district court erred in interpreting the exculpatory clause contained in the assumption-of-risk-and-release agreement because the events leading to T.J.’s injury were not covered by the exculpatory clause, and because T.J.’s injuries occurred on premises not covered by the exculpatory clause.

Regarding appellant’s first contention, the district court did not err in concluding [*12] that the events that resulted in T.J.’s injuries were covered by the exculpatory clause. Appellant’s argument on this point is that woodchip throwing is not an inherent risk of playing baseball. While this may be true, it is not dispositive in this case. As respondent noted, the “inherent risk” language found in the assumption-of-risk-and-release agreement is extraneous to the exculpatory clause because the sentence containing the “inherent risk” language precedes the exculpatory language. However, more important to the resolution of this appeal is determining what actions are covered by the term “activities” as it is used in the exculpatory clause. Appellant attempts to define the term “activities” narrowly, to mean only activities directly related to the game of baseball. This is contrary to a plain reading of the assumption-of-risk-and-release agreement. The first time “activities” occurs in the agreement, it is used to describe “the activities that make up the MBIS.” It is not limited to the activity of playing baseball; instead, it covers all of the activities encompassed by the respondent’s camp. Lunch-break activities were part of respondent’s camp. T.J. was injured during the [*13] lunch break. As such, the exculpatory clause, under a plain reading, does cover T.J.’s injury.

Regarding appellant’s second contention, the district court did not err in concluding that T.J.’s injuries occurred on premises covered by the exculpatory clause. Appellant argues that the residence hall courtyard, in which the injury occurred, is not part of the “premises” used for specific baseball instructional activities. As explained above, appellant’s definition is too narrow. As used in the assumption-of-risk-and-release agreement, “activities” refers to all of the activities that are part of the camp, rather than just activities directly related to baseball. Because lunch-break activities are part of the camp, those activities are covered by the assumption-of-risk-and-release agreement. As a result, the premises where lunch-break activities occurred are covered by the exculpatory clause.

III. The exculpatory clause does not violate public policy.

Finally, the district court was correct in concluding that the exculpatory clause did not violate public policy. 2

2 Appellant does not contend that T.J. was injured as a result of respondent’s intentional conduct.

[HN4] Even if a release clause is [*14] unambiguous in scope and is limited only to negligence, courts must still ascertain whether its enforcement will contravene public policy. On this issue, a two-prong test is applied:

Before enforcing an exculpatory clause, both prongs of the test are examined, to-wit: (1) whether there was a disparity of bargaining power between the parties (in terms of a compulsion to sign a contract containing an unacceptable provision and the lack of ability to negotiate elimination of the unacceptable provision) . . . and (2) the types of services being offered or provided (taking into consideration whether it is a public or essential service).

Id. (citations omitted).

The two-prong test describes what is generally known as a “contract of adhesion.” Anderson v. McOskar Enters., 712 N.W.2d 796, 800 (Minn. App. 2006). As explained in Schlobohm, [HN5] a contract of adhesion is

a contract generally not bargained for, but which is imposed on the public for necessary service on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis. Even though a contract is on a printed form and offered on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis, those facts alone do not cause it to be an adhesion contract. There must be a showing that the parties were greatly [*15] disparate in bargaining power, that there was no opportunity for negotiation and that the services could not be obtained elsewhere.

326 N.W.2d at 924-25.

Here, it is not in dispute that the exculpatory clause was part of a take-it-or-leave-it agreement. Neither appellant nor respondent argues that T.J.’s mother had the ability to negotiate the agreement. What the parties do dispute is the nature of the services being offered by respondent. Appellant argues that instructional baseball training is an educational activity and, thus, an essential public service. We disagree. Instructional baseball training is not a service that is either of great importance to the public, or a practical necessity for some members of the public. Furthermore, the services provided by respondent are not essential because there are other avenues to obtain instructional baseball training for children. See id. at 926 ( [HN6] “[I]n the determination of whether the enforcement of an exculpatory clause would be against public policy, the courts consider whether the party seeking exoneration offered services of great importance to the public, which were a practical necessity for some members of the public.”).

Because the [*16] district court did not err (1) in concluding that there was no material fact in dispute; (2) in interpreting the exculpatory clause; and (3) determining that the exculpatory clause did not violate public policy, we affirm.

Affirmed.

WordPress Tags: Minnesota,Baseball,Instructional,School,Minn,Unpub,LEXIS,Terry,guardian,Thaddeus,Appellant,Respondent,COURT,APPEALS,March,NOTICE,OPINION,EXCEPT,STATUTES,PRIOR,HISTORY,Hennepin,District,File,DISPOSITION,COUNSEL,Wilbur,Fluegel,Office,Minneapolis,Stuart,Goldenberg,Johnson,Marianne,Settano,Theresa,Cleave,Bloomington,JUDGES,Worke,Judge,Hudson,negligence,action,incident,judgment,agreement,injury,FACTS,students,June,Siebert,stadium,Sanford,residence,hall,option,television,courtyard,student,clause,registration,fact,information,DECISION,State,Cooper,French,conclusions,Russ,assumption,Swanson,director,method,participants,parents,enrollment,confirmation,completion,spreadsheet,roster,participant,Respondents,version,ATTORNEY,Exhibit,Number,Correct,histories,policy,insurance,room,Also,Recognition,Risk,camper,signature,attachment,Moores,Okay,testimony,Seven,Emphasis,participation,MBIS,covenant,Directors,Officers,Instructors,Regents,Employee,death,premises,colloquy,QUESTION,Deposition,ANSWER,health,data,essence,determination,text,determinations,interpretation,Northland,Props,Phip,violation,Schlobohm,Petite,freedom,clauses,Thornton,Bros,scope,events,injuries,contention,argument,Lunch,definition,enforcement,prong,prongs,compulsion,provision,elimination,citations,adhesion,Anderson,McOskar,Enters,basis,negotiation,Here,Neither,importance,avenues,exoneration,woodchip,exculpatory,whether,upon


McPhail v. Bismarck Park District, 2003 ND 4; 655 N.W.2d 411; 2003 N.D. LEXIS 3

McPhail v. Bismarck Park District, 2003 ND 4; 655 N.W.2d 411; 2003 N.D. LEXIS 3

Scott Kondrad, a minor, by and through Shari McPhail as next friend, Plaintiff and Appellant v. Bismarck Park District, Defendant and Appellee

No. 20020196

Supreme Court of North Dakota

2003 ND 4; 655 N.W.2d 411; 2003 N.D. LEXIS 3

January 17, 2003, Filed

Prior History:      [***1] Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable Bruce A. Romanick, Judge.

Disposition:    AFFIRMED.

Counsel: Michael Ray Hoffman, Bismarck, N.D., for plaintiff and appellant.

Randall J. Bakke, Smith Bakke Oppegard Porsborg Wolf, Bismarck, N.D., for defendant and appellee.

Judges: Opinion of the Court by Maring, Justice. Mary Muehlen Maring, William A.

Neumann, Dale V. Sandstrom, Carol Ronning Kapsner, Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J.

Opinion By: Mary Muehlen Maring

Opinion

[**412] Maring, Justice.

[*P1] Scott Kondrad, a minor, by and through his mother, Shari McPhail, as next friend, appealed from a summary judgment dismissing his action for damages against the Bismarck Park District for injuries suffered in a bicycle accident.

We hold a waiver and release signed by McPhail exonerates the Park District for its alleged negligence in this case, and we affirm.

I

[*P2] The bicycle accident occurred on September 9, 1999, at the Pioneer Elementary School while Kondrad was [***2] participating in BLAST, an after-school care program operated by the Park District. Kondrad fell on the school grounds while riding a bicycle owned by a child who was not part of the BLAST program. Kondrad injured his arm in the fall, and McPhail subsequently sued the Park District for damages on Kondrad’s behalf, asserting Kondrad’s injuries were the result of the Park District’s negligent supervision of the children in the BLAST program. The Park District moved for a summary judgment, claiming McPhail had released the Park District from liability for the accident.

The district court construed the waiver and release signed by McPhail, determined it exonerated the Park District from liability, and granted the Park District’s motion for dismissal of the case.

II

[*P3] On appeal, Kondrad asserts the district court erred in granting the summary judgment dismissal and in concluding that the waiver and release signed by McPhail exonerated the Park District from liability for its alleged negligence.

[*P4] Summary judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 56 is a procedural device for properly disposing of a lawsuit without trial if, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to [***3] the nonmoving party, there are no genuine issues of material fact or conflicting inferences which can reasonably be drawn from undisputed facts, or if the only issues to be resolved are questions of law. Jose v. Norwest Bank, 1999 ND 175, P7, 599 N.W.2d 293. Whether the district court properly granted summary judgment is a question of law and is reviewed de novo. Garofalo v. St. Joseph’s Hosp., 2000 ND 149, P6, 615 N.W.2d 160. On appeal, we review the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion for summary judgment, giving that party the benefit of all favorable inferences that reasonably can be drawn from the evidence. Olander [**413] Contracting Co. v. Gail Wachter Invs., 2002 ND 65, P9, 643 N.W.2d 29.

[*P5] Resolution of this appeal requires us to interpret the “Parent Agreement” signed by McPhail when she enrolled Kondrad in the BLAST program, which included the following waiver and release language:

I recognize and acknowledge that there are certain risks of physical injury to participant in this program and I agree to assume the full risk of any such injuries, damages or loss regardless of [***4] severity which I or my child/ward may sustain as a result of participating in any activities associated with this program. I waive and relinquish all claims that I, my insurer, or my child/ward may have against the Park District and its officers, servants, and employees from any and all claims from injuries, damages or loss which I or my child/ward may have or which may accrue to me or my child/ward on account of my participation of my child/ward in this program.

Kondrad argues this language must be interpreted as exonerating the Park District from liability for damages only as to injuries sustained during “activities associated with” the BLAST program. The Park District has conceded that riding a bicycle was not an activity associated with the program. Kondrad asserts the release does not, therefore, exonerate the Park District from liability if its negligence resulted in Kondrad incurring injuries while riding the bicycle. The Park District asserts the waiver is unambiguous and released the Park District from liability for any and all injuries sustained by Kondrad while participating in the BLAST program. The Park District argues the waiver and release exonerated it from [***5] liability for negligence resulting in injury or damages to Kondrad while participating in the program irrespective of whether, at the time of the injury, Kondrad was involved in a planned activity associated with the program.

[*P6] Generally, the law does not favor contracts exonerating parties from liability for their conduct. Reed v. Univ. of North Dakota, 1999 ND 25, P22, 589 N.W.2d 880. However, the parties are bound by clear and unambiguous language evidencing an intent to extinguish liability, even though exculpatory clauses are construed against the benefitted party. Id. When a contract is reduced to writing, the intention of the parties is to be ascertained from the writing alone, if possible. N.D.C.C. § 9-07-04; Meide v. Stenehjem ex rel. State, 2002 ND 128, P7, 649 N.W.2d 532. The construction of a written contract to determine its legal effect is a question of law for the court to decide, and, on appeal, this Court will independently examine and construe the contract to determine if the trial court erred in its interpretation of it. Egeland v. Continental Res., Inc., 2000 ND 169, P10, 616 N.W.2d 861. [***6] The issue whether a contract is ambiguous is a question of law. Lenthe Invs., Inc. v. Serv. Oil, Inc., 2001 ND 187, P14, 636 N.W.2d 189. An unambiguous contract is particularly amenable to summary judgment. Meide, 2002 ND 128, P7, 649 N.W.2d 532.

[*P7] We conclude the language of waiver and release under the agreement signed by McPhail is clear and unambiguous. We construe all provisions of a contract together to give meaning to every sentence, phrase, and word. U.S. Bank Nat’l Ass’n v. Koenig, 2002 ND 137, P9, 650 N.W.2d 820. The assumption of risk and waiver clauses are separate and distinct. Each contains a clearly expressed meaning and consequence. Under the assumption of risk clause, McPhail agreed to assume the full risk of injury and damages resulting from Kondrad participating in [**414] any activities associated with the BLAST program. In addition, under the waiver and release clause, McPhail waived and relinquished all claims against the Park District for injuries or damages incurred on account of Kondrad’s participation in the BLAST program. The language of waiver and release is not limited to only those injuries incurred [***7] while participating in activities associated with the program, but to all injuries incurred by the child on account of his participation in the program.

[*P8] It is undisputed that Kondrad’s bicycle accident occurred on the school grounds while Kondrad was participating in the BLAST program. This is the very type of situation for which the Park District, under the release language, insulated itself from liability for alleged negligence while operating the after-school care program. Under the unambiguous language of the agreement, McPhail exonerated the Park District from liability for injury and damages incurred by Kondrad while participating in the program and caused by the alleged negligence of the Park District. 1

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -1

Under N.D.C.C. § 9-08-02 a party is precluded from contractually exonerating itself from liability for willful acts. See Reed v. Univ. of North Dakota, 1999 ND 25, P22 n.4, 589 N.W.2d 880. The release in this case is not specifically limited to exonerating the Park District from liability for only negligent conduct.

However, Kondrad’s claim against the Park District is based on negligence, and he has not argued the release is invalid because it purports to exonerate the Park District from liability for intentional or willful acts. We do not, therefore, address that issue in this opinion.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – –

[***8] III

[*P9] We hold the Parent Agreement signed by McPhail clearly and unambiguously exonerates the Park District for injuries sustained by Kondrad while participating in the BLAST program and which were allegedly caused by the negligent conduct of the Park District. We further hold, therefore, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment dismissing Kondrad’s action against the Park District, and we affirm.

[*P10] Mary Muehlen Maring

William A. Neumann

Dale V. Sandstrom

Carol Ronning Kapsner

Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J.

WordPress Tags: McPhail,Bismarck,Park,District,LEXIS,Scott,Kondrad,Shari,friend,Plaintiff,Appellant,Defendant,Appellee,Supreme,Court,North,Dakota,January,Prior,History,Appeal,Burleigh,South,Central,Judicial,Honorable,Bruce,Romanick,Judge,Disposition,Counsel,Michael,Hoffman,Randall,Bakke,Smith,Oppegard,Porsborg,Wolf,Judges,Opinion,Justice,Mary,Muehlen,William,Neumann,Dale,Sandstrom,Carol,Kapsner,Gerald,VandeWalle,judgment,action,injuries,bicycle,accident,waiver,negligence,September,Pioneer,Elementary,School,BLAST,supervision,dismissal,Summary,device,lawsuit,fact,inferences,Jose,Norwest,Bank,Whether,Garofalo,Joseph,Hosp,Olander,Gail,Wachter,Invs,Resolution,Parent,Agreement,injury,participant,ward,insurer,officers,servants,employees,account,participation,Univ,clauses,intention,Meide,Stenehjem,State,construction,interpretation,Egeland,Continental,Lenthe,Serv,Koenig,assumption,consequence,Under,clause,addition,situation,Footnotes


Albert v. Ober Gatlinburg, Inc., 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100150

Albert v. Ober Gatlinburg, Inc., 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100150

Jaren Albert, a minor bn/f Jarrod Albert, and Jarrod Albert, individually, Plaintiffs, v. Ober Gatlinburg, Inc., and Smoky Mountain Snow SPORT School, Inc., Defendants.

No. 3:02-CV-277

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE

2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100150

January 25, 2006, Filed

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Motion granted by, Summary judgment denied by, Motion denied by Albert v. Ober Gatlinburg, Inc., 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17456 (E.D. Tenn., Apr. 6, 2006)

CORE TERMS: snow, ski, skiing, slope, lesson, skier, summary judgment, passenger, beginner, skied, sport, mountain, downhill, terrain, ski area, trail, teach, alpine, ski resort, expert witness, matter of law, moving party, minor child, non-moving, hazardous, warning, use reasonable care, daughter’s, resort, opined

COUNSEL: [*1] For Jarrod Albert, Individually, Jarrod Albert, next friend, Jaren – Albert, Jaren. Albert, Plaintiffs: Gerald L Gulley, Jr, LEAD ATTORNEY, Gulley Oldham, PLLC, Knoxville, TN; W. Richard Baker, Jr, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Office of W. Richard Baker, Jr, Knoxville, TN.

For Ober Gatlinburg Inc, Defendant: John T Buckingham, Richard W Krieg, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Lewis, King, Krieg & Waldrop, P.C. (Knox), Knoxville, TN; Paul R Leitner, LEAD ATTORNEY, Leitner Williams Dooley Napolitan, PLLC (Chattanooga), Chattanooga, TN; Tonya R Willis, LEAD ATTORNEY, Linda G. Welch & Associates, Knoxville, TN.

For Smoky Mountain Snow Sport School, Inc., Defendant: Michael J King, W Kyle Carpenter, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Robert L Vance, Woolf, McClane, Bright, Allen & Carpenter, PLLC, Knoxville, TN.

For State of Tennessee, Intervenor: Paul G Summers, LEAD ATTORNEY, Waller, Lansden, Dortch & Davis, PLLC (Nashville), Nashville, TN.

JUDGES: Thomas W. Phillips, United States District Judge.

OPINION BY: Thomas W. Phillips

OPINION

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This is a civil action for personal injuries sustained by Jaren Albert while skiing at Ober Gatlinburg’s resort on December 27, 2001. Pending before the court are the following motions: (1) defendant Ober Gatlinburg’s [*2] motion for summary judgment [Doc. 55]; (2) defendant Smoky Mountain Snow Sport School’s motion for summary judgment [Doc. 58]; and (3) plaintiffs’ motion for oral argument on the pending motions for summary judgment [Doc. 74].

The parties have filed extensive briefs pertaining to the motions for summary judgment in which they have fully briefed all of the issues and submitted record evidence in support of the parties’ positions. The court has reviewed the briefs and evidence submitted, and does not feel that oral argument is necessary. Therefore, plaintiffs’ motion for oral argument [Doc. 74] is DENIED. For the reasons stated below, Ober Gatlinburg’s motion for summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part; and Smoky Mountain’s motion for summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

On December 27, 2001, 15-year old Jaren Albert went to Ober Gatlinburg ski resort for the purpose of Alpine or downhill skiing. The previous day, Albert had received instructions in skiing from defendant Smoky Mountain Snow Sport School (Snow School). While skiing at the Ober Gatlinburg resort, Albert suffered injuries to her face and left eye as a result of a fall [*3] on the ski slope. Albert contends that her injuries resulted from defendants’ negligence in permitting skiing on a slope that was unreasonably icy and extra hazardous, and because she received inadequate instruction in skiing from the Snow School. Plaintiff Jarrod Albert has brought this action individually, and on behalf of his daughter Jaren Albert, against defendants alleging negligence which proximately caused personal injury to his daughter.

II. Standard of Review

Rule 56(c), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, provides that summary judgment will be granted by the court only when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The burden is on the moving party to conclusively show that no genuine issue of material fact exists. The court must view the facts and all inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986); Morris to Crete Carrier Corp., 105 F.3d 279, 280-81 (6th Cir. 1987); White v. Turfway Park Racing Ass’n, Inc., 909 F.2d 941, 943 (6th Cir. 1990); 60 Ivy Street Corp. v. Alexander, 822 F.2d 1432, 1435 (6th Cir. 1987). [*4] Once the moving party presents evidence sufficient to support a motion under Rule 56, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the non-moving party is not entitled to a trial simply on the basis of allegations. The non-moving party is required to come forward with some significant probative evidence which makes it necessary to resolve the factual dispute at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986); White, 909 F.2d at 943-44. The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if the non-moving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case with respect to which it has the burden of proof. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; Collyer v. Darling, 98 F.3d 211, 220 (6th Cir. 1996).

III. Analysis

A. Ober Gatlinburg

Defendant Ober Gatlinburg moves for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In support of the motion, Ober asserts that (1) Jaren Albert was guilty of negligence as a matter of law which bars recovery for her injuries; (2) Jaren’s claim is barred by the Tennessee Ski Area Safety and Liability Act (SASLA), T.C.A. § 68-114-101; and (3) Ober is not guilty of any negligence which proximately caused or contributed to Jaren’s accident and [*5] injuries. Ober has also moved for summary judgment as to the claims of Jarrod Albert, stating that (1) his claims are solely derivative of the claims of Jaren Albert and that failure of her claims precludes any recovery by Jarrod Albert; and (2) that Jarrod Albert signed a valid release agreement contractually preventing him from bringing a claim against the ski operator.

First, Ober Gatlinburg asserts that Jaren Albert’s negligence bars any recovery against the ski resort as a matter of law. In support of its assertion, Ober Gatlinburg states that Ms. Albert, an inexperienced, beginning skier with limited skiing experience, chose to ski on a slope that she knew was designated for “advanced” skiers. That act of negligence on her part was the sole cause of her fall and her injury. Therefore, her negligence bars recovery against Ober Gatlinburg on any of her claims as a matter of law.

Second, Ober Gatlinburg contends the Ski Area Safety & Liability Act (SASLA), T.C.A. § 68-114-101, governs downhill snow skiing and sets a liability standard different from normal tort liability. Specific duties, responsibilities, and defenses are statutorily created by the SASLA for the sport of downhill [*6] skiing. Ober Gatlinburg asserts that the SASLA precludes ski area liability based on risks inherent in the sport of Alpine or downhill skiing. The SASLA provides:

It is hereby recognized that Alpine or downhill skiing is a recreational sport and the use of passenger tramways associated therewith may be hazardous to skiers or passengers, regardless of all feasible safety measures which can be taken. Therefore, each skier and each passenger has the sole responsibility for knowing the range of such skier’s or passenger’s own ability to negotiate any alpine, ski trail or associated passenger tramway, and it is the duty of each skier and passenger to conduct such skier or passenger within the limits of such skier’s or passenger’s own ability, to maintain control of such skier’s or passenger’s speed and course at all times while skiing, to heed all posted warnings and to refrain from acting in a manner which may cause or contribute to the injury of such skier or passenger or others. Except as otherwise specifically provided in this chapter, each skier or passenger is deemed to have assumed the risk of and legal responsibility for any injury to such skier’s or passenger’s person or property [*7] arising out of such skier’s or passenger’s participation in Alpine or downhill skiing or the use of any passenger tramways associated therewith. The responsibility for collisions by any skier while actually skiing, with any person or object, shall be solely that of the skier or skiers involved in such collision and not that of the ski area operator.

T.C.A. § 68-114-103.

Ober Gatlinburg asserts Ms. Albert was an inexperienced skier, yet she skied on a slope which she knew was designated as “most difficult” and rated as a “black diamond” slope; and she ignored the posted signs warning her that the slope she was preparing to ski on was not suited to her ability. Despite that knowledge, Ms. Albert skied down Mogul Ridge and suffered a fall. Defendant states that Ms. Albert was not skiing within the limits of her ability and she apparently failed to maintain control of her speed and course, resulting in her fall and injury. Having failed to meet her responsibility under the SASLA of skiing within her ability and maintaining control of her skiing, she is barred by the SASLA from recovering from defendant for her injuries.

Further, defendant states that the SASLA provides that each skier is “deemed [*8] to have assumed the risk of and legal responsibility for any injury to such skier’s … person or property arising out of such skier’s . . . participation in Alpine or downhill skiing. T.C.A. § 68-114-103. Ms. Albert chose to participate in downhill skiing on the slopes at Ober Gatlinburg, so under the SASLA, she is deemed to have assumed the risk of and liability for the injuries she suffered on December 27, 2001.

In support of its motion, Ober Gatlinburg has submitted the affidavit of Thomas Diriwaechter. Mr. Diriwaechter is a certified ski instructor, and has been the Director of Skiing at Ober Gatlinburg since 1998. Mr. Diriwaechter’s affidavit states that he is familiar with the SASLA and its requirements. On the day at issue, Mr. Diriwaechter states that all open slopes at Ober Gatlinburg were appropriate for skiing. The open slopes included Mogul Ridge, Upper Bear Run, Castle Run, Cub Way and the Ski School area. More specifically, Dr. Diriwaechter states that the slope where Jaren Albert fell was appropriate for skiing at the time of her fall. He further states that all slopes at Ober Gatlinburg were properly classified pursuant to state law and U.S. industry standards on December [*9] 27, 2001. It is Mr. Diriwaechter’s opinion that at the time of Jaren Albert’s fall, she was an inexperienced skier attempting to ski on a slope that was beyond the limits of her ability which resulted in her falling and sustaining injuries. He also opines that Ober Gatlinburg did nothing in any way to cause or contribute to Ms. Albert’s fall and resulting injuries.

Plaintiffs have responded in opposition, asserting that Ober Gatlinburg failed to use reasonable care in deciding to open the ski resort on the day of the accident, failed to close some slopes or warn of ultra hazardous conditions on the slope on which this accident occurred, and failed to designate the slope on which the accident occurred as ultra hazardous, ice-covered, and/or “black diamond,” thus breaching its duty to operate in conformity with the SASLA. In support of their response, plaintiffs have submitted the affidavit of James Isham, an expert in the field of snow sports safety and professional ski instruction.

Mr. Isham opines that Jaren hit an icy/muddy section of the ski run which was unmarked, lost control, fell and was injured. Based upon the parties’ deposition testimony, Mr. Isham states that the surface conditions [*10] on the trails indicated considerable variation. The snow on Cub Way and lower Castle Run was soft, groomed, packed powder texture. The snow surface on Mogul Ridge was icy, with patchy cover and lumpy/chunky earlier in the day. As the day wore on and more skiers skied the upper slopes, the surface became more thinly covered and would be reasonably deemed to be in extra-hazardous condition. When slope conditions change from marginal to extra-hazardous in nature, Mr. Isham states it becomes the obligation and duty of the ski operator to post warnings at the top of each trail notifying skiers that the slopes have changed and that they demand extra caution and attention. Such warnings should have also been posted at the slope condition board at the base of the mountain to provide additional information to skiers. Mr. Isham concludes that Ober Gatlinburg failed to use reasonable care by failing to comply with the SASLA to warn Jaren Albert of the changing conditions on the slopes, which contributed to her fall and injuries.

Jaren and her father each testified that they received skiing instructions in the following areas: snow plow, and side to side. Jaren was able to negotiate the trails [*11] by making “S” turns side-to-side down the slope. When she wanted to stop, she attempted to do so by sitting down. After the lesson, Jaren skied ten runs on Cub Way (the easiest trail). The following day, Jaren testified she skied Cub Way for approximately one hour and then moved on to Bear Run, an advanced slope. She skied both Bear Run and Cub Way many times, and made several runs on Castle Run (an intermediate trial). Just prior to lunch, Jaren skied down Mogul Ridge (the most difficult trail). Following lunch, Jaren skied the slopes for approximately two hours. During this time, she skied Bear Run, Cub Way, and Mogul Ridge, falling one or two times. Jaren testified that she was able to ski Bear Run, an advanced slope, without difficulty. She also skied Mogul Ridge, an expert slope, within her ability. Jaren testified that she did not lose control while skiing, until her accident occurred on the upper portion of Castle Run approximately 30 yards below Mogul Ridge.

Trevor Duhon provided a written statement of his eyewitness account of Jaren’s fall. He indicated that she fell on upper Castle Run. “She was coming down, she slipped and started sliding on her butt, she tried to stop sideways, [*12] she started going head over heels for about 10 feet, then her ski came off, hit her in the head, and she was out.”

The SASLA was enacted by the Tennessee legislature to define the responsibility of skiers and ski area operators, including assigning the responsibility for the inherent dangers of skiing. 1978 Tenn. Pub. Acts, Chapter 701. While the provisions at issue in the present case concern the protections for operators against liability claims, the SASLA also contains a number of provisions concerning signage and other duties of ski area operators. The intent behind the liability provisions of the Act is to protect ski area operators from lawsuits for falls and collisions in circumstances that cannot be made risk free given the inherent dangerousness of skiing. Id. However, the Tennessee Court of Appeals has read the statute narrowly and held that it does not protect operators from their own negligence nor provide them with blanket immunity. Terry v. Ober Gatlinburg, 1998 Tenn. App. LEXIS 76, 1998 WL 54700 (Tenn.App. 1998) 1998 Tenn. LEXIS 426 (perm.app.denied July 13, 1998).

Plaintiffs state that Ober Gatlinburg owed a duty of reasonable care under the circumstances, in addition to their statutory duties, not to expose a skier [*13] to risks at the resort which were not an inherent risk of skiing. Plaintiff’s expert witness, Mr. Isham testified that the slope on which Jaren fell had become extra-hazardous and that Ober Gatlinburg failed to use reasonable care by failing to comply with the SASLA to warn skiers of the changing conditions on the slopes. On the other hand, Ober’s expert witness, Mr. Diriwaechter, testified that all open slopes at Ober Gatlinburg were appropriate for skiing. In particular, Mr. Diriwaechter testified that the slope where Jaren fell was appropriate for skiing at the time of her fall. Mr. Diriwaechter opined that Jaren’s fall and injuries resulted from her attempting to ski a slope that was beyond the limits of her ability. Jaren Albert testified that she was able to ski the slopes within her ability and had done so the previous day and for several hours prior to her accident. It is clear to the court that there exists questions of fact which preclude summary judgment. Whether Ober Gatlinburg failed to exercise reasonable care when it opened the ski resort to the public on December 27, 2001; whether the conditions encountered by Jaren Albert that day were an inherent risk of skiing; and [*14] whether Jaren Albert attempted to ski a slope beyond the limits of her ability, are all questions of fact to be resolved by the jury. Because there are disputed issues of material fact as to whether Jaren’s accident was the result of an inherent risk of skiing or the result of Ober Gatlinburg’s negligence, defendant’s motion for summary judgment will be denied.

B. Release Signed by Jarrod Albert

Finally, Ober Gatlinburg asserts that the claims of Jarrod Albert are barred by the release he signed on behalf of himself and his minor daughter, Jaren. The release at issue stated as follows:

I HAVE READ THE AGREEMENT (SECTION 1) ON THE BACK OF THIS FORM RELEASING THE RESORT AREA FROM LIABILITY. I VOLUNTARILY AGREE TO THE TERMS OF THAT AGREEMENT.

User’s signature: /s/ Jaren Albert Date: 12-27-01

If user is a minor, parent must read the following and sign below.

I understand and accept full responsibility for the use of this ski equipment to my minor child and hereby release, indemnify, and hold harmless the provider of this ski equipment and the area operator for any claims brought by my minor child as a result of any injuries or damages sustained while engaging in the activity of snow skiing.

Parent’s [*15] signature: /s/ Jarrod Albert Date: 12-27-01

Ober Gatlinburg argues that by signing the release, Jarrod Albert, individually, accepted the responsibility to release, indemnify and hold harmless the ski resort for claims brought by his minor child as a result of any injuries or damages she might sustain while engaged in the activity of snow skiing. Thus, defendant argues that Mr. Albert should be precluded from recovering for the damages he sustained in his individual capacity because of his daughter’s fall at the ski resort.

Plaintiffs respond that material fact questions exist as to whether Ober Gatlinburg misrepresented the conditions which existed on the slopes on the day Jaren was injured. Plaintiffs contend that Ober Gatlinburg made material misstatements of fact when it represented to the public that it had created a snow base of 30 to 45 inches, and that a jury could conclude that this material misrepresentation of fact constitutes fraud which would render the release void.

This court has previously found the release void as to Jaren Albert because it is well settled in Tennessee that a guardian may not waive the rights of an infant or an incompetent. However, the Tennessee courts [*16] have held that a parent signing a release like the one at issue here, is precluded from recovering for the loss of services and medical expenses resulting from the child’s injury. See Childress v. Madison County, 777 S.W.2d 1 (Tenn.App. 1989); Rogers v. Donelson-Hermitage Chamber of Commerce, 807 S.W.2d 242 (Tenn.App. 1991). This rule is subject to exception: Exculpatory clauses purporting to contract against liability for intentional conduct, recklessness or gross negligence are unenforceable. See Childress, 777 S.W.2d at 5; Adams v. Roark, 686 S.W.2d 73 (Tenn. 1985). Plaintiffs’ complaint has not alleged intentional, reckless or grossly negligent conduct, their claims are couched in terms of simple negligence. The release in this case is clear and unambiguous. Jarrod Albert acknowledged that Jaren would be participating in snow skiing at his own risk. He further agreed to indemnity defendants “for any claims brought by my minor child as a result of any injuries or damages sustained while engaging in the activity of snow skiing.” Therefore, the release is valid with respect to Jarrod Albert’s right to recover for loss of services and medical expenses for his child. Accordingly, summary [*17] judgment will be granted to Ober Gatlinburg on the claims of Jarrod Albert.

C. Smoky Mountain Snow Sport School

The Snow School asserts that it is entitled to summary judgment on plaintiffs’ claims because (1) the Snow School did not owe a duty to plaintiffs at the time of Jaren’s accident; and (2) the undisputed facts show that no acts or omissions of the Snow School caused plaintiffs’ alleged injuries.

In support of its motion, the Snow School submits the affidavit of Jim Cottrell. Mr. Cottrell has been the Ski School Director for the French-Swiss Ski College at Blowing Rock, North Carolina for the past 36 years. Mr. Cottrell stated that the responsibility of a ski school is to provide coaching or ski instruction to students for a designated period of time, beginning from the time the students meet at the ski school area until they are released at the end of the lesson. Instructors at ski schools have no control over or responsibility for choices that students make after a lesson is concluded. He further stated that the goal of a beginner lesson is to help students learn the basic skills needed to ski beginner terrain. A beginner lesson should include instruction in the following areas: [*18] equipment orientation, getting up, basic ski posture (position), walking on flat terrain, walking up slight inclines, sliding, wedging, turning around on an incline, direction change, turning on beginner terrain, use of a lift, and safety. In his opinion, the beginner lesson plan developed by the Snow School included those elements. He further stated that a beginner lesson is not designed to teach the most advanced skills needed to ski advanced terrain or all types of snow conditions. He opined that the Snow School had no responsibility to plaintiffs at the time of the accident because the Snow School’s responsibility ended when the lesson ended; the Snow School did not have a responsibility to teach plaintiffs how to ski on advanced slopes during their beginner lesson; and the Snow School did not have a responsibility to teach the plaintiffs how to ski on all snow conditions. The Snow School had a responsibility only to teach plaintiffs in the context of the conditions present at the time and place of the lesson.

The Snow School asserts it did not owe a duty to Jaren Albert at the time of her accident because its responsibility to her ended when plaintiffs’ ski lesson ended on December [*19] 26. Moreover, the Snow School did not have a responsibility to teach Jaren how to ski on the snow conditions present on the advanced slope where the accident occurred. The Snow School asserts it had no control over or responsibility for the choices that Jaren made after her lesson had concluded. Further, the Snow School did not have a duty to teach Jaren how to ski on advanced terrain during her beginner lesson. Finally, the Snow School asserts that no causal connection exists between the ski lesson taught by the school and Jaren’s accident. Beginner lessons are not designed to teach students the advanced skills needed to ski on advanced terrain; therefore, not even a “perfect” beginner lesson would have prevented Jaren’s accident which took place on advanced terrain.

In response, plaintiffs state that material factual issues exist as to whether the Snow School actually provided the ski lesson contracted for and whether such deficient ski lesson was a proximate cause of plaintiffs’ injuries. Jaren and Jarrod Albert testified that only a 5-10 minute lesson was provided and that the only elements covered included the snow plow and side-to-side.

Plaintiffs’ expert witness, James Isham reviewed [*20] the lesson plan outline provided by the Snow School and stated that if all the things outlined were taught, the lesson would take more than an hour for students to learn. The Alberts stated that the lesson took less than ten minutes. Mr. Isham states that there appears to have been no substantial information given to the Alberts regarding: (1) the conditions of the mountain; (2) where they could safely ski; (3) how to match each skiers’ ability with the slope of choice; (4) how to effectively execute a stop while skiing, and (5) the “Skiers Responsibility Code.” In his opinion, the lesson time and content were limited and failed to cover any safety issues, signage or slope difficulty information. Mr. Isham opined that the Snow School failed in its duties to give a complete lesson to the Alberts on the night of December 26. He testified that the lack of teaching the Skiers Responsibility Code, trail signage, and successful methods for stopping, all fell below minimum standards and were proximate contributing causes to plaintiffs’ injuries. Mr. Isham further opined that the Snow School failed to use reasonable care by not giving adequate information in the lesson.

The expert witnesses [*21] for the respective parties in this case disagree on whether the Snow School provided the Alberts with an adequate lesson in beginner skiing on December 26. Defendant’s expert witness, Mr. Cottrell, stated that the goal of a beginner lesson is to help students learn the basic skills needed to ski beginner terrain, and in his opinion, the Snow School’s lesson plan was adequate to meet that goal. In contrast, plaintiff’s expert witness, Mr. Isham, after reviewing the same lesson plan, stated that if all the things outlined were taught, the lesson would take more than an hour. The Alberts testified that the lesson lasted no more than 5-10 minutes, and that the only elements covered included the snow plow and side-to-side. Mr. Isham further testified that, in his opinion, an adequate beginner ski lesson should include information regarding the conditions on the mountain, where the Alberts could safely ski, how to match their ability with the slope of choice, how to effectively execute a stop while skiing, and the Skiers’ Responsibility Code.

There exists material issues of fact as to whether the Snow School did in fact give an adequate lesson to the Alberts on December 26. Because factual [*22] questions exist concerning the adequacy of the ski lesson taught by the Snow School and whether that lack of instruction was a proximate cause of Jaren’s fall and injuries, a jury must determine the facts in dispute, and summary judgment is not appropriate. Accordingly, Smoky Mountain Snow Sport School’s motion for summary judgment as to the claims of Jaren Albert will be denied.

The Snow School adopted Ober Gatlinburg’s motion for summary judgment as to the claims of Jarrod Albert. For the reasons stated above, the court finds that the release signed by Jarrod Albert waives his right to recover for the loss of services and medical expenses for his child. Accordingly, Smoky Mountain Snow Sport School’s motion for summary judgment as to the claims of Jarrod Albert will be granted.

Conclusion

For the reasons stated above, defendant Ober Gatlinburg’s motion for summary judgment [Doc. 55] is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART; the motion is DENIED as to the claims of Jaren Albert and GRANTED as to the claim of Jarrod Albert. Likewise, defendant Snow School’s motion for summary judgment [Doc. 58] is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART; the motion is DENIED as to the claims of Jaren Albert and [*23] GRANTED as to the claim of Jarrod Albert. Plaintiffs’ motion for oral argument [Doc. 74] is DENIED. The parties will prepare the case for trial.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

/s/ Thomas W. Phillips

United States District Judge

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Parental control: should you, are you accepting responsibility for kids and when you should or can you not.

Once you accept responsibility, you are opening yourself up for any problem the minor may encounter.

This scenario came to me, and my reaction was the exact opposite of the person telling me about it.

Child is enrolled in a program. One parent enrolled the child. The other parent is making rules for how the child will act and what the child will wear (safety gear) while attending the program.

It is a community program, not away from home; it is something you drop your child off should participate in.

The one parent sends a letter to the program stating they expect the program to make sure the child wears the specific equipment. It is optional for all other participants to wear the specific equipment.

How the program responds will determine who is going to pay the child’s medical bills. Basically, the parent created a standard that if accepted by the program creates a duty upon the program.

My response.

I would have sent a letter to both parents that states:

It is your kid; we are not a babysitting service. If you want to make sure your child wears the gear, then you need to be here making sure your child is wearing the gear. You are allowed, in fact, encouraged to attend all practices, programs and meetings. If your child is here, you better be here too.

The other person’s response.

They’d better made sure the kid wears the gear.

The legal issue and concern?

The program is run by volunteers. One parent is saying to volunteers if you do not do what I say I am going to sue you if my child is hurt. The program has hundreds of kids, seriously hundreds of kids some nights, and a few volunteers, (when were there ever enough volunteers.)

The parent is making a duty that the program can either accept or not accept and if they do nothing they are accepting the standard created by the program. “I am not responsible for your child.”

Will this create a duty on the part of every other child in the program?

We are not legally responsible for your child; you are. (See A Parent (or Guardian) is still in control of a child, no matter what the volunteer may want, http://rec-law.us/zN0jcl). The program has no responsibility if the parent is present. Why accept the possibility that you cannot control a teenager and therefore, will get sued because of it?

Why Volunteer and Put Up with Crap like This!

What type of parent are you that you can’t take the time to spend time with your child but threaten litigation if your child gets hurt. “Here you take your time to take care of my kid and I’m going to sue you over it.”

Actually, I just would have thrown the kid out of the program. No program, run by volunteers for other people’s kids need this.

Kid programs are not where parents drop off kids and go on with their lives. Kid programs are where families work to help the community, and the kid to grow, learn and expand their horizons. Kids programs are not so parents get a break from their kids. Youth programs are for youth and that does not mean that those adults who take time away from their family should be subject to suit by parents who won’t take the time.

If you volunteer your time and someone who does not volunteer puts a burden on you to watch their kid how would you feel?

If you are volunteering your time, and some parent comes to you and says you have to do things this way, hand them the clipboard and whistle and walk away. It is not worth it.

Other articles about the legal issues of Volunteers:

Adult volunteer responsibility ends when the minor is delivered back to his parents.                               http://rec-law.us/yVBckK

A Parent (or Guardian) is still in control of a child, no matter what the volunteer may want.                                        http://rec-law.us/zN0jcl

Adult volunteer responsibility ends when the minor is delivered back to his parents.                                                        http://rec-law.us/wynrnO

 

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By Recreation Law    Rec-law@recreation-law.com      James H. Moss         #Authorrank

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Minors and Releases

Where can a parent sign away a minor’s right to sue and where that will not work.

Audience:                   Sport and Recreation Law Association

Location:                    San Antonio, Texas

Date:                         2009

Presentation:                       Minors and Releases          http://rec-law.us/ZjzUK9

 

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This presentation was given to highlight why minors cannot sign a release and why only a few states have allowed a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

For other articles about this subject or for the latest information about the topic see:

States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue                         http://rec-law.us/z5kFan

 

$5 Million because a church took a kid skiing and allowed him to……..skihttp://rec-law.us/wCXYBH

A Parent (or Guardian) is still in control of a child, no matter what the volunteer may want.         http://rec-law.us/zN0jcl

Adult volunteer responsibility ends when the minor is delivered back to his parents.       http://rec-law.us/wynrnO

Alabama follows the majority of states and does not allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.                                                                                                                                    http://rec-law.us/Aegeo3

Courtney Love in Outdoor Recreation Law                                                        http://rec-law.us/yEpdBR

Delaware decision upholds a release signed by a parent against a minor’s claims           http://rec-law.us/MWKMmt

Delaware holds that mothers signature on contract forces change of venue for minors claims.http://rec-law.us/JMvEMv

Iowa does not allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.                  http://rec-law.us/AaLwBF

Maine decision on minor injured in ski school conforms how most states will interpret the facts.            http://rec-law.us/yxZN2M

Maine follows the majority and does not allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.        http://rec-law.us/zPfJ9V

Minnesota decision upholds parent’s right to sign away a minor’s right to sue.      http://rec-law.us/xyeuOH

New Florida law allows a parent to sign away a child’s right to sue for injuries.     http://rec-law.us/Au1dGE

North Carolina may allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue for injuries when the minor is engaged in non-profit activities sponsored by schools, volunteers, or community organizations            http://rec-law.us/ACYg0m

North Dakota decision allows a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.http://rec-law.us/SDYQHG

Ohio Appellate decision upholds the use of a release for a minor for a commercial activity.        http://rec-law.us/LuYZbv

Release stops suit for falling off horse at Colorado summer Camp.              http://rec-law.us/wtRyK5

Releases are legal documents and need to be written by an attorney that understands the law and the risks of your program/business/activity and your guests/members/clientele.           http://rec-law.us/yVPR8S

States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue                         http://rec-law.us/z5kFan

Statutes and prospective language to allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.            http://rec-law.us/zkGtcW

Texas follows majority with appellate court decision holding a parent cannot sign away a minor’s right to sue.    http://rec-law.us/MCh75O

Texas makes it easier to write a release because the law is clear.                 http://rec-law.us/yBjZBb

Wrong release for the activity almost sinks YMCA                                            http://rec-law.us/A9AW0P

You’ve got to be kidding: Chaperone liable for the death of girl on a trip     http://rec-law.us/zqxJTf

Remember the law changes constantly, this presentation may be out of date. Check back at www.recreation-law.com and with your attorney to make sure the information is still valid.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FB, Twitter or LinkedIn

Copyright 2013 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog:www.recreation-law.com

Mobile Site: http://m.recreation-law.com

By Recreation Law    Rec-law@recreation-law.com      James H. Moss         #Authorrank

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C.R.S. §§13-22-107. Legislative declaration – definitions – children – waiver by parent of prospective negligence claims

C.R.S. §§13-22-107. Legislative declaration – definitions – children – waiver by parent of prospective negligence claims

(1) (a) The general assembly hereby finds, determines, and declares it is the public policy of this state that:

(I) Children of this state should have the maximum opportunity to participate in sporting, recreational, educational, and other activities where certain risks may exist;

(II) Public, private, and non-profit entities providing these essential activities to children in Colorado need a measure of protection against lawsuits, and without the measure of protection these entities may be unwilling or unable to provide the activities;

(III) Parents have a fundamental right and responsibility to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children. The law has long presumed that parents act in the best interest of their children.

(IV) Parents make conscious choices every day on behalf of their children concerning the risks and benefits of participation in activities that may involve risk;

(V) These are proper parental choices on behalf of children that should not be ignored. So long as the decision is voluntary and informed, the decision should be given the same dignity as decisions regarding schooling, medical treatment, and religious education; and

(VI) It is the intent of the general assembly to encourage the affordability and availability of youth activities in this state by permitting a parent of a child to release a prospective negligence claim of the child against certain persons and entities involved in providing the opportunity to participate in the activities.

(b) The general assembly further declares that the Colorado supreme court’s holding in case number 00SC885, 48 P.3d 1229 (Colo. 2002), has not been adopted by the general assembly and does not reflect the intent of the general assembly or the public policy of this state.

(2) As used in this section, unless the context otherwise requires:

(a) “Child” means a person under eighteen years of age.

(b) For purposes of this section only, “parent” means a parent, as defined in section 19-1-103 (82), C.R.S., a person who has guardianship of the person, as defined in section 19-1-103 (60), C.R.S., a person who has legal custody, as defined in section 19-1-103 (73), C.R.S., a legal representative, as defined in section 19-1-103 (73.5), C.R.S., a physical custodian, as defined in section 19-1-103 (84), C.R.S., or a responsible person, as defined in section 19-1-103 (94), C.R.S.

(3) A parent of a child may, on behalf of the child, release or waive the child’s prospective claim for negligence.

(4) Nothing in this section shall be construed to permit a parent acting on behalf of his or her child to waive the child’s prospective claim against a person or entity for a willful and wanton act or omission, a reckless act or omission, or a grossly negligent act or omission.

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Kids get hurt and some kids die

If you want your kids to play sports, enjoy the outdoors, and have fun, you have to accept the fact your kid will suffer an injury and some of those injuries are fatal.

If parents continue to sue volunteers and programs for their kids injuries, there are not going to be programs for kids. The facts of life say that the cost of providing a program for a kid by volunteers is going to reach a maximum, and those programs will end.

Most programs provide insurance for their volunteers. No matter how the coverage is provided, the volunteers own homeowner’s policy is the primary general liability policy. Eventually, when applying for homeowners insurance, there may be a question about volunteer activities. There is already a question about whether or not you have been sued in the past.

What about the time issues for a new volunteer. You want to be an assistant coach for your kids and the neighbor kids. You go to the first meeting and find out you have to take 20 hours of training before you can attend the first practice and several more hours after that. Is it worth the effort?

Think about the effects on our economy. No more free, after school, babysitting. Parents will have to trust their kids at home by themselves rather than sending them off to a volunteer.

Better, programs are going to require parents to be at all activities, including meetings and practices.

Seriously, would you take a kid backpacking knowing you be sued when you get home because he or she tripped over a stove and spilt hot pasta water on their foot. (Been there, took them to the hospital.)

So?

1.   Programs are going to have to step up to the bar and require parents to sign releases and/or acknowledgment of risk forms, which state:

a.   The parent is aware and understands all the risks of the sport or activity.

b.   The parent has watched all the required videos online.

c.   The parents agree to arbitration or mediation for all disputes and where applicable a limitation of damages.

2.   Volunteers are going to have to make the programs have an attorney prepare a release.

3.   Volunteers need to make sure they buy the maximum amount of liability coverage for their homeowner’s policy they can.

a.   You may consider an umbrella insurance policy to provide more coverage.

4.   You need to meet with parents and create minimums. If not enough parents are available for practices or games, the kids are sent home. If you say I need 10 parents to go with the 20 kids on this weekend camping trip and nine show up, you and the nine parents get a free weekend after you take all 10 kids home.

5.   If you are a volunteer or a parent, consider having all parents and volunteers take the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) Guide to Safe Scouting (GSS) program. More information on the BSA GSS can be found here.

a.   The BSA GSS safeguards kids but it will also protect you.

Don’t stick your neck out for the kids when their parents may chop them off.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Florida statute that allows a parent to release a minor’s right to sue

TITLE 43.  DOMESTIC RELATIONS (Chs. 741-753)

CHAPTER 744.  GUARDIANSHIP

PART III.  TYPES OF GUARDIANSHIP

GO TO FLORIDA STATUTES ARCHIVE DIRECTORY

Fla. Stat. § 744.301 (2012)

§ 744.301.  Natural guardians

   (1) The mother and father jointly are natural guardians of their own children and of their adopted children, during minority. If one parent dies, the surviving parent remains the sole natural guardian even if he or she remarries. If the marriage between the parents is dissolved, the natural guardianship belongs to the parent to whom custody of the child is awarded. If the parents are given joint custody, then both continue as natural guardians. If the marriage is dissolved and neither the father nor the mother is given custody of the child, neither shall act as natural guardian of the child. The mother of a child born out of wedlock is the natural guardian of the child and is entitled to primary residential care and custody of the child unless a court of competent jurisdiction enters an order stating otherwise.

(2) Natural guardians are authorized, on behalf of any of their minor children, to:

   (a) Settle and consummate a settlement of any claim or cause of action accruing to any of their minor children for damages to the person or property of any of said minor children;

   (b) Collect, receive, manage, and dispose of the proceeds of any such settlement;

   (c) Collect, receive, manage, and dispose of any real or personal property distributed from an estate or trust;

   (d) Collect, receive, manage, and dispose of and make elections regarding the proceeds from a life insurance policy or annuity contract payable to, or otherwise accruing to the benefit of, the child; and

   (e) Collect, receive, manage, dispose of, and make elections regarding the proceeds of any benefit plan as defined by s. 710.102, of which the minor is a beneficiary, participant, or owner, without appointment, authority, or bond, when the amounts received, in the aggregate, do not exceed $ 15,000.

(3) In addition to the authority granted in subsection (2), natural guardians are authorized, on behalf of any of their minor children, to waive and release, in advance, any claim or cause of action against a commercial activity provider, or its owners, affiliates, employees, or agents, which would accrue to a minor child for personal injury, including death, and property damage resulting from an inherent risk in the activity.

   (a) As used in this subsection, the term “inherent risk” means those dangers or conditions, known or unknown, which are characteristic of, intrinsic to, or an integral part of the activity and which are not eliminated even if the activity provider acts with due care in a reasonably prudent manner. The term includes, but is not limited to:

      1. The failure by the activity provider to warn the natural guardian or minor child of an inherent risk; and

      2. The risk that the minor child or another participant in the activity may act in a negligent or intentional manner and contribute to the injury or death of the minor child. A participant does not include the activity provider or its owners, affiliates, employees, or agents.

   (b) To be enforceable, a waiver or release executed under this subsection must, at a minimum, include the following statement in uppercase type that is at least 5 points larger than, and clearly distinguishable from, the rest of the text of the waiver or release:

                 NOTICE TO THE MINOR CHILD‘S NATURAL GUARDIAN

            READ THIS FORM COMPLETELY AND CAREFULLY. YOU ARE

   AGREEING TO LET YOUR MINOR CHILD ENGAGE IN A

   POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS ACTIVITY. YOU ARE AGREEING THAT,

   EVEN IF ( name of released party or parties ) USES

   REASONABLE CARE IN PROVIDING THIS ACTIVITY, THERE IS A

   CHANCE YOUR CHILD MAY BE SERIOUSLY INJURED OR KILLED

   BY PARTICIPATING IN THIS ACTIVITY BECAUSE THERE ARE

   CERTAIN DANGERS INHERENT IN THE ACTIVITY WHICH CANNOT

   BE AVOIDED OR ELIMINATED. BY SIGNING THIS FORM YOU ARE

   GIVING UP YOUR CHILD’S RIGHT AND YOUR RIGHT TO RECOVER

   FROM ( name of released party or parties ) IN A

   LAWSUIT FOR ANY PERSONAL INJURY, INCLUDING DEATH, TO

   YOUR CHILD OR ANY PROPERTY DAMAGE THAT RESULTS FROM

   THE RISKS THAT ARE A NATURAL PART OF THE ACTIVITY. YOU

   HAVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE TO SIGN THIS FORM, AND

   ( name of released party or parties ) HAS THE

   RIGHT TO REFUSE TO LET YOUR CHILD PARTICIPATE IF YOU

   DO NOT SIGN THIS FORM.

   (c) If a waiver or release complies with paragraph (b) and waives no more than allowed under this subsection, there is a rebuttable presumption that the waiver or release is valid and that any injury or damage to the minor child arose from the inherent risk involved in the activity.

      1. To rebut the presumption that the waiver or release is valid, a claimant must demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the waiver or release does not comply with this subsection.

      2. To rebut the presumption that the injury or damage to the minor child arose from an inherent risk involved in the activity, a claimant must demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the conduct, condition, or other cause resulting in the injury or damage was not an inherent risk of the activity.

      3. If a presumption under this paragraph is rebutted, liability and compensatory damages must be established by a preponderance of the evidence.

   (d) Nothing in this subsection limits the ability of natural guardians, on behalf of any of their minor children, to waive and release, in advance, any claim or cause of action against a noncommercial activity provider, or its owners, affiliates, employees, or agents, to the extent authorized by common law.

(4) All instruments executed by a natural guardian for the benefit of the ward under the powers specified in this section are binding on the ward. The natural guardian may not, without a court order, use the property of the ward for the guardian’s benefit or to satisfy the guardian’s support obligation to the ward.

HISTORY:  S. 1, ch. 74-106; s. 8, ch. 75-166; s. 7, ch. 75-222; s. 1, ch. 77-190; s. 3, ch. 79-221; s. 17, ch. 89-96;  s. 22, ch. 92-200;  s. 66, ch. 95-211;  s. 73, ch. 97-170;  s. 11, ch. 2002-195;  s. 8, ch. 2005-101;  s. 3, ch. 2006-178, eff. July 1, 2006;  s. 2, ch. 2010-27, eff. Apr. 27, 2010.

NOTES:

AMENDMENTS

   The 2005 amendment by s. 8, ch. 2005-101, effective June 1, 2005, rewrote (2).

   The 2006 amendment by s. 3, ch. 2006-178, effective July 1, 2006, in (1), substituted “the surviving parent remains the sole natural guardian even if he or she” for “the natural guardianship shall pass to the surviving parent, and the right shall continue even though the surviving parent” in the second sentence and made minor stylistic changes; substituted “Natural” for “The natural guardian or” at the beginning of (2); substituted “amounts received, in the aggregate, do” for “amount involved in any instance does” in the last undesignated paragraph in (2); in (3), inserted “for the benefit of the ward” and substituted “specified” for “provided for” in the first sentence and added the last sentence; and deleted former (4).

   The 2010 amendment added (3); redesignated former (3) as (4); and substituted “this section are” for “subsection (2) shall be” in the first sentence of (4).

NOTE.–

   Created from former s. 744.13.

FLORIDA STATUTES REFERENCES

   Chapter 549. Automobile Race Meets, F.S. § 549.09. Motorsport nonspectator liability release.

   Chapter 739. Florida Uniform Disclaimer of Property Interests Act, F.S. § 739.104. Power to disclaim; general requirements; when irrevocable.

   Chapter 744. Guardianship, F.S. § 744.387. Settlement of claims.

FLORIDA ADMINISTRATIVE CODE REFERENCES

   Chapter 19-11 Procedures for the Public Employee Optional Retirement Program, F.A.C. 19-11.003 Distributions from Frs Investment Plan Accounts.

1. Judgment against a mother in her daughter’s claim against a boutique alleging negligent ear piercing was improper; an indemnification agreement signed by the mother violated public policy. Fla. Stat. § 744.301(3) did not include releasing the commercial activity provider from liability for its own negligence. Claire’s Boutiques, Inc. v. Locastro, 2011 Fla. App. LEXIS 6662 (Fla. 4th DCA May 11, 2011).

2. Despite a father’s claim that Georgia was the home state of his child born out of wedlock for purposes of custody under Fla. Stat. § 61.514 of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act, a Florida circuit court had jurisdiction to enter an emergency child pick-up order ex-parte because: (1) the child’s mother was a Florida resident when the child was born, the child was born in Florida, and the mother, after living in Georgia for a time, returned to live in Florida; (2) the order simply enforced the mother’s presumptive rights under Fla. Stat. § 744.301(1) until a court determined otherwise and was not a determination as to the father’s ultimate custody rights; and (3) the emergency order was not inconsistent with O.C.G.A. § 19-2-4(a), O.C.G.A. § 19-7-22(a) and (c), and O.C.G.A. § 19-7-25. Perez v. Giledes, 912 So. 2d 32, 2005 Fla. App. LEXIS 13310 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005).

3. When a parent is awarded custody of a child following a dissolution of marriage to the other parent, Fla. Stat. § 744.301(1) does not automatically extinguish the rights of a noncustodial parent as natural guardian of his child; guardianship is dependent on the custody of the child and if the custodial parent dies, the natural guardianship passes to the surviving parent. Lusker v. Guardianship of Lusker, 434 So. 2d 951, 1983 Fla. App. LEXIS 19487 (Fla. 2nd DCA 1983).

4. Trial court properly dismissed the information charging defendant with interference with custody in violation of Fla. Stat. § 787.03 where an order from another state had relinquished custody of the children to defendant and the mother. Furthermore, the court reversed the trial court’s declaration that Fla. Stat. § 744.301(1) was unconstitutional because resolution of the case did not require such a declaration. State v. Earl, 649 So. 2d 297, 1995 Fla. App. LEXIS 307 (Fla. 5th DCA 1995).

5. Pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 744.301(1) a mother, the non-custodial parent, had a right to custody of her child upon the death of the father, the custodial parent, where the father obtained custody of the 10 month old child when the parents divorced, the father moved with his child and new wife to another county three years after the divorce and actively thwarted the mother’s attempts to visit her child so that the mother was unable to see her child for seven years, and the father’s widow, who sought custody of the child upon the father’s death, was unable to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the mother was unfit. Webb v. Webb, 546 So. 2d 1062, 1989 Fla. App. LEXIS 2951 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1989), review denied by 553 So. 2d 1168, 1989 Fla. LEXIS 1234 (Fla. 1989).

6. Mere fact that a father had enforceable rights and obligations to his child born out of wedlock by virtue of his acknowledgement of paternity did not equate to his having a right to temporary custody superior to the mother’s prior to a court declaration to that effect. Perez v. Giledes, 912 So. 2d 32, 2005 Fla. App. LEXIS 13310 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005).

7. Trial court properly dismissed the information charging defendant with interference with custody in violation of Fla. Stat. § 787.03 where an order from another state had relinquished custody of the children to defendant and the mother. Furthermore, the court reversed the trial court’s declaration that Fla. Stat. § 744.301(1) was unconstitutional because resolution of the case did not require such a declaration. State v. Earl, 649 So. 2d 297, 1995 Fla. App. LEXIS 307 (Fla. 5th DCA 1995).

8. When a parent is awarded custody of a child following a dissolution of marriage to the other parent, Fla. Stat. § 744.301(1) does not automatically extinguish the rights of a noncustodial parent as natural guardian of his child; guardianship is dependent on the custody of the child and if the custodial parent dies, the natural guardianship passes to the surviving parent. Lusker v. Guardianship of Lusker, 434 So. 2d 951, 1983 Fla. App. LEXIS 19487 (Fla. 2nd DCA 1983).

9. Trial court properly dismissed the information charging defendant with interference with custody in violation of Fla. Stat. § 787.03 where an order from another state had relinquished custody of the children to defendant and the mother. Furthermore, the court reversed the trial court’s declaration that Fla. Stat. § 744.301(1) was unconstitutional because resolution of the case did not require such a declaration. State v. Earl, 649 So. 2d 297, 1995 Fla. App. LEXIS 307 (Fla. 5th DCA 1995).

10. Where child’s father had executed agreement to pay for child’s required medical care, the hospital was not foreclosed from seeking recovery against the mother under an implied in law contract predicated upon her duty to support her child under Fla. Stat. § 744.301. Variety Children’s Hospital, Inc. v. Vigliotti, 385 So. 2d 1052, 1980 Fla. App. LEXIS 17190 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1980).

11. Admitted father of premature infant girl was a natural guardian of the infant under Fla. Stat. § 744.301(1), despite infant’s illegitimate status; therefore, unwed father was responsible for infant’s necessary emergency medical services. De Costa v. North Broward Hosp. Dist., 497 So. 2d 1282, 1986 Fla. App. LEXIS 10561 (Fla. 4th DCA 1986).

12. Fla. Stat. § 744.301(1) provides that the mother of a child born out of wedlock is the natural guardian of the child and is entitled to primary residential care and custody of the child unless a court of competent jurisdiction entered an order stating otherwise. Muniz v. State, 764 So. 2d 729, 2000 Fla. App. LEXIS 8142 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2000).

13. Judgment against a mother in her daughter’s claim against a boutique alleging negligent ear piercing was improper; an indemnification agreement signed by the mother violated public policy. Fla. Stat. § 744.301(3) did not include releasing the commercial activity provider from liability for its own negligence. Claire’s Boutiques, Inc. v. Locastro, 2011 Fla. App. LEXIS 6662 (Fla. 4th DCA May 11, 2011).

1. Florida Civil Procedure, Chapter 9. Amended and Supplementary Pleadings; Pretrial Procedure, § 9-3. Settlements.

2. Florida Estates Practice Guide, Chapter 18 Beneficiaries’ Rights, Part I. Legal Background, § 18.11 Disclaimer of Interest in Property.

3. Florida Estates Practice Guide, Chapter 26 Guardians, Part I. Legal Background, § 26.04 Natural Guardians.

4. Florida Estates Practice Guide, Chapter 26 Guardians, Part I. Legal Background, § 26.43 Litigation Involving Ward.

5. Florida Estates Practice Guide, Chapter 36 Right to Property of an Intestate, Part III. Forms, § 36.204 Petition for Authorization to Execute Qualified Disclaimer.

6. Florida Estates Practice Guide, Appendix PRG Florida Probate and Guardianship Rules, Part I General, Rule 5.040. Notice.

7. Florida Family Law, Division I Marriage, Chapter 3 Cohabitation, B. Rights and Obligations of Cohabitating Partners and their Children, § 3.11 Rights and Obligations Concerning Children.

8. Florida Family Law, Division IV Dissolution of Marriage, Chapter 32 Parental Responsibility and Timesharing, Part I. Legal Background, C. Basis for Determinations of Parental Responsibility and Timesharing, § 32.20 Parents’ Rights and Duties.

9. Florida Family Law, Division IV Dissolution of Marriage, Chapter 32 Parental Responsibility and Timesharing, Part I. Legal Background, D. Effect of Shared Parental Responsibility and Timesharing Determinations, § 32.30 Rights and Duties of Parents.

10. Florida Family Law, Division IV Dissolution of Marriage, Chapter 32 Parental Responsibility and Timesharing, Part II. Practice Guide, B. Preliminary Determinations, § 32.111 Action for Shared Parental Responsibility.

11. Florida Family Law, Division IV Dissolution of Marriage, Chapter 33 Child Support, Part I. Legal Background, § 33.01 Parents’ Duty to Support Child.

12. Florida Family Law, Division IV Dissolution of Marriage, Chapter 33 Child Support, Part II. Practice Guide, B. Preliminary Determinations, § 33.110 Duty to Support Child.

13. Florida Family Law, Division IV Dissolution of Marriage, Chapter 33 Child Support, Part II. Practice Guide, B. Preliminary Determinations, § 33.116 Child Support Order in Paternity Action.

14. Florida Family Law, Division IV Dissolution of Marriage, Chapter 82 Modification of Child Support, Part I. Legal Background, § 82.03 Practice and Procedure.

15. Florida Family Law, Division V Parent-Child Relationships, Chapter 90 Paternity, Part I. Legal Background, A. Paternity and the Parent-Child Relationship, § 90.03 Interests and Status of Natural Father.

16. Florida Family Law, Division V Parent-Child Relationships, Chapter 90 Paternity, Part I. Legal Background, A. Paternity and the Parent-Child Relationship, § 90.06 Father’s Rights to Parental Responsibility and Timesharing.

17. Florida Family Law, Division V Parent-Child Relationships, Chapter 90 Paternity, Part I. Legal Background, B. Establishing Paternity in Paternity Proceeding, § 90.20 Overview of Paternity Proceeding.

18. Florida Family Law, Division V Parent-Child Relationships, Chapter 92 Nonparental Custody, B. Proceedings Involving Nonparental Custody, § 92.10 Type of Proceedings.

19. Florida Family Law, Division VI Other Procedures, Chapter 101 Disabilities of Minority, A. Disabilities of Minority, § 101.03 Other Aspects of Disabilities of Minority.

20. Florida Probate Code Manual, Chapter 1 Intestate Succession, § 1.12 Disclaimer.

21. Florida Probate Code Manual, Chapter 5 Rights of the Decedent’s Children, § 5.13 Disclaimer.

22. Florida Probate Code Manual, Chapter 19 Appointment and Removal of Guardians, § 19.03 Natural Guardians.

23. Florida Probate Code Manual, Chapter 19 Appointment and Removal of Guardians, § 19.09 Guardians Ad Litem.

24. Florida Probate Code Manual, Chapter 20 The Guardian as a Fiduciary, § 20.02 Powers of Natural Guardian.

25. Florida Probate Code Manual, Chapter 20 The Guardian as a Fiduciary, § 20.04 Powers and Duties of Guardian Ad Litem.

26. Florida Probate Code Manual, Chapter 20 The Guardian as a Fiduciary, § 20.11 Bringing and Defending Actions; Settling Claims.

27. Florida Probate Code Manual, Florida Probate Rules, Scope.

28. Florida Real Estate Transactions, Part II. The Deed, Chapter 10. Parties to the Deed, § 10.03 Deeds by Minors.

29. Florida Torts, VIII. Sources of Compensation, Chapter 141 Settlement and Release, I. Legal Background, A. Settlement, 1. Settlement Procedures and Techniques, § 141.06 Statutes Affecting Settlements.

30. Florida Torts, VIII. Sources of Compensation, Chapter 141 Settlement and Release, I. Legal Background, B. Releases, § 141.53 Enforcement and Avoidance.

31. Florida Torts, VIII. Sources of Compensation, Chapter 141 Settlement and Release, I. Legal Background, B. Releases, § 141.54 Release by Natural Guardian for Minor Participating in Activities with Inherent Risks.

32. LexisNexis Practice Guide: Florida Civil Motion Practice, Chapter 13 Settlement, IV. Entering Into a Settlement Agreement, § 13.19 Authority of Third Persons to Enter Settlement Agreements.

33. LexisNexis Practice Guide: Florida Estate & Probate Practice, Chapter 10 Wills: Administrative Provisions, II. Appointing Fiduciaries, § 10.06 Appoint a Guardian.

34. LexisNexis Practice Guide: Florida Personal Injury, What’s New, Scope.

35. LexisNexis Practice Guide: Florida Personal Injury, Chapter 9 General Liability, I. Overview, § 9.02 Master Checklist.

36. LexisNexis Practice Guide: Florida Personal Injury, Chapter 9 General Liability, VI. Determine Express Assumption of Risk, § 9.36 Checklist.

37. LexisNexis Practice Guide: Florida Personal Injury, Chapter 9 General Liability, VI. Determine Express Assumption of Risk, § 9.38 Determine Whether Parent Executed Enforceable Pre-Injury Release.

38. LexisNexis Practice Guide: Florida Personal Injury, Chapter 9 General Liability, VI. Determine Express Assumption of Risk, § 9.38B Establish Immunity for Motorsport Activities.

39. LexisNexis Practice Guide: Florida Pretrial Civil Procedure, Chapter 4 Parties, III. Party Must Have Standing in Action, § 4.08 Standing Generally Requires Party’s Interest in Action.

40. Planning for the Elderly in Florida, Chapter 17 Guardianship, § 17.06 Types of Guardianships.

41. Southeast Transaction Guide, Unit II. Estate Planning, Division 1. Estate Planning and Wills, § 85.03 Legal Background.

42. Southeast Transaction Guide, Unit II. Estate Planning, Division 1. Estate Planning and Wills, § 85.04 Preliminary Determinations.

43. Southeast Transaction Guide, Unit V. Personal Transactions, Division 2. Family Affairs, § 340.02 Research Guide.

44. Southeast Transaction Guide, Unit V. Personal Transactions, Division 2. Family Affairs, § 340.03 Legal Background.

45. Southeast Transaction Guide, Unit V. Personal Transactions, Division 2. Family Affairs, § 341.02 Research Guide.

46. Southeast Transaction Guide, Unit V. Personal Transactions, Division 2. Family Affairs, § 362.22 Right to Custody of Minor Children.

1. Case Comment: Constitutional Law: The Limits of a Patient’s Right to Refuse Medical Treatment, Troy Rillo, April 1994, 46 Fla. L. Rev. 347.

2. Comments: Lagging Behind The Times: Parenthood, Custody, and Gender Bias in the Family Court, Cynthia A. Mcneely, Summer 1998, 25 Fla. St. U.L. Rev. 891.

3. A Cry For Help: An Argument For Abrogation Of the Parent-Child Tort Immunity Doctrine in Child Abuse and Incest Casesa Cry For Help: An Argument For Abrogation Of the Parent-Child Tort Immunity Doctrine in Child Abuse and Incest Cases, Caroline E. Johnson, Fall 1993, 21 Fla. St. U.L. Rev. 617.

4. The Minefield of Liability for Minors: Running Afoul Of Corporate Risk Management in Florida, Jordan A. Dresnick, April 2010, 64 U. Miami L. Rev. 1031.

5. The Minefield of Liability for Minors: Running Afoul of Corporate Risk Management in Florida, Jordan A. Dresnick, April 2010, 64 U. Miami L. Rev. 1031.

6. Quasi-Marital Children: The Common Law’s Failure in Privette and Daniel Calls For Statutory Reform, The Honorable Chris W. Altenbernd, Winter 1999, 26 Fla. St. U.L. Rev. 219.

7. Student Work: Redefining Parenthood: Removing Nostalgia From Third-Party Child Custody and Visitation Decisions in Florida, Sarah E. Kay, Fall 2009, 39 Stetson L. Rev. 317.

8. The Validity of Binding Arbitration Agreements and Children’s Personal Injury Claims in Florida After Shea v. Global Travel Marketing, Inc., Douglas P. Gerber, Fall 2003, 28 Nova L. Rev. 167.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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This case is a summer camp lawsuit and the decision looks at venue and jurisdiction; however the complaint alleges medical malpractice against a camp!

Bernstein v Wysoki et al., 77 A.D.3d 241; 907 N.Y.S.2d 49; 2010 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 6579; 2010 NY Slip Op 6475; 244 N.Y.L.J. 43

I really wish I could find out how this case resolved

This case covers a fact pattern that probably occurs weekly during the summer. The camper started suffering some illness. The camper was treated at camp by the camp physician and camp nurse then sent to a local hospital.

The parents sued the camp, camp physician, camp nurse and the treating physicians at the hospital for medical malpractice. The specific claim against the camp and its nurse and physician was a failure to “…timely recognize and properly care for and treat Jordan’s condition.”

In order to enroll the child in the camp, the parents were required to sign a camp contract. The contract covered many different details but was never identified by the court as a release.

The mother sued the camp in New York for the alleged injuries to her son.

So?

The second paragraph of the camp contract gave the camp permission to treat the child for any medical surgical or dental issues.

If it is necessary to obtain off-camp medical/surgical/dental services for the camper, such as expenses shall be paid by the parent except the portion supplied by the camp medical staff. Authority is granted without limitation to the camp/assigns in all medical matters to hospitalize/treat/order injections/anesthesia/surgery for the camper. The parent is responsible for all pre-existing medical conditions, out of camp medical/surgical/hospital/pharmaceutical/allergy expenses and for providing adequate quantities of necessary medications and allergy serums to camp in pharmacy containers with doctor’s instructions. The parent(s) or legal guardian(s) hereby states that the camper is in good, normal health and has no abnormal physical, emotional, or mental handicaps”.

(For other articles looking at the medical issues of camps and outdoor activities see Texas makes it easier to write a release because the law is clear, North Carolina may allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue for injuries when the minor is engaged in non-profit activities sponsored by schools, volunteers, or community organizations, ACA Standards are used by Expert for the Plaintiff in a lawsuit against a Camp, Adult volunteer responsibility ends when the minor is delivered back to his parents.)

The basis of the legal arguments on appeal were the jurisdiction and venue of the lawsuit. (For more articles on venue and jurisdiction see Four releases signed and all of them thrown out because they lacked one simple sentence!, A Recent Colorado Supreme Court Decision lowers the requirements to be brought into the state to defend a lawsuit., Jurisdiction in Massachusetts allows a plaintiff to bring in Salomon France to the local court., The legal relationship created between manufactures and US consumers.). The camp was located in Pennsylvania and the jurisdiction and venue clause required any suit to be in Pennsylvania.

The venue of any dispute that may arise out of this agreement or otherwise between the parties to which the camp or its agents is a party shall be either the local District Justice Court or the Court of Common Pleas, Wayne County, Pennsylvania”

The camp operated out of an office in Pennsylvania in the summer where the camp was located, but it had an office in New York during the winter. When the child was ill, he was taken to a hospital which was located in New York.

The camp, camp nurse and camp physician filed motions to dismiss the complaint based on the jurisdiction and venue clause in the contract. The hospital and other physicians being sued also filed motions to dismiss based on the jurisdiction and venue clause in the contract. The contract stated, “the forum selection clause applies to “any dispute that may arise out of this agreement or otherwise between the parties to which the camp or its agents is a party

To void a jurisdiction and/or venue clause the party opposing it must prove that the clause is:

…unreasonable, unjust, in contravention of public policy, invalid due to fraud or overreaching, or it is shown that a trial in the selected forum would be so gravely difficult that the challenging party would, for all practical purposes, be deprived of its day in court.

Without proof of such an issue, then jurisdiction and venue clause are valid and enforceable and will not be set aside. The plaintiff did not prove to the court any of the necessary elements to have the clause set aside.

Thus, the contract allowed the court to dismiss the camp, camp nurse and camp physician’s as defendant and force the plaintiff to re-file the lawsuit in the Wayne County Pennsylvania court. “Accordingly, since the forum selection clause addresses jurisdiction and contains mandatory venue language, the clause fixing venue is enforceable…”

Third Parties – non camp employees

The physicians and hospital argued the language in the contact and the relationship between themselves and the camp then extended the jurisdiction and venue of the contact to them. As such they should be sued in the Common Pleas court of Wayne County Pennsylvania. However, the court found the parties to the original contract, the camp and the parents did not foresee the contract extending that far to third parties.

To reach to third parties in such a case the contract must.

…there are three sets of circumstances under which a non-party may invoke a forum selection clause: First, it is well settled that an entity or individual that is a third-party beneficiary of the agreement may enforce a forum selection clause found within the agreement. Second, parties to a ‘global transaction’ who are not signatories to a specific agreement within that transaction may nonetheless benefit from a forum selection clause contained in such agreement if the agreements are executed at the same time, by the same parties or for the same purpose. Third, a nonparty that is ‘closely related’ to one of the signatories can enforce a forum selection clause. The relationship between the nonparty and the signatory in such cases must be sufficiently close so that enforcement of the clause is foreseeable by virtue of the relationship between them.

Because the parties to the original contract did not contemplate in their formation of the contract, that hospital and physicians would be part of the agreement, the court could not extend the agreement to them in the suit.

So Now What?

This is a good discussion and points out the importance of having a forum selection clause in your documents and especially your release.

The scary and still unanswered part of the decision is the claims of medical malpractice can still be raised against the camp in Pennsylvania.

Make sure you contact your insurance agent and verify that you would be covered if a medical-malpractice  claim is brought against you in a case like this. If you have or employee physicians, nurses or other licensed health care providers, you will need to have specific medical-malpractice  coverage to cover them if you are sued. However, coverage for a non-entity such as a camp is rarely written into a policy.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Statutes and prospective language to allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

Now is the time to move a statute like this forward in your state.

Three states allow a parent to sign away a child’s right to sue by statute: Alaska, Florida and Colorado. Five (maybe 6) states allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue by Supreme Court Decision. See States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue. With more legislatures leaning to the conservative side, now is the time to introduce and get a law like these passed in your state. To assist you, at the end I have included language that I would propose for the statute.

Colorado

C.R.S. §§13-22-107. Legislative declaration – definitions – children – waiver by parent of prospective negligence claims
(1) (a) The general assembly hereby finds, determines, and declares it is the public policy of this state that:
(I) Children of this state should have the maximum opportunity to participate in sporting, recreational, educational, and other activities where certain risks may exist;
(II) Public, private, and non-profit entities providing these essential activities to children in Colorado need a measure of protection against lawsuits, and without the measure of protection these entities may be unwilling or unable to provide the activities;
(III) Parents have a fundamental right and responsibility to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children. The law has long presumed that parents act in the best interest of their children.
(IV) Parents make conscious choices every day on behalf of their children concerning the risks and benefits of participation in activities that may involve risk;
(V) These are proper parental choices on behalf of children that should not be ignored. So long as the decision is voluntary and informed, the decision should be given the same dignity as decisions regarding schooling, medical treatment, and religious education; and
(VI) It is the intent of the general assembly to encourage the affordability and availability of youth activities in this state by permitting a parent of a child to release a prospective negligence claim of the child against certain persons and entities involved in providing the opportunity to participate in the activities.
(b) The general assembly further declares that the Colorado supreme court’s holding in case number 00SC885, 48 P.3d 1229 (Colo. 2002), has not been adopted by the general assembly and does not reflect the intent of the general assembly or the public policy of this state.
(2) As used in this section, unless the context otherwise requires:
(a) “Child” means a person under eighteen years of age.
(b) For purposes of this section only, “parent” means a parent, as defined in section 19-1-103 (82), C.R.S., a person who has guardianship of the person, as defined in section 19-1-103 (60), C.R.S., a person who has legal custody, as defined in section 19-1-103 (73), C.R.S., a legal representative, as defined in section 19-1-103 (73.5), C.R.S., a physical custodian, as defined in section 19-1-103 (84), C.R.S., or a responsible person, as defined in section 19-1-103 (94), C.R.S.
(3) A parent of a child may, on behalf of the child, release or waive the child’s prospective claim for negligence.
(4) Nothing in this section shall be construed to permit a parent acting on behalf of his or her child to waive the child’s prospective claim against a person or entity for a willful and wanton act or omission, a reckless act or omission, or a grossly negligent act or omission.

Florida Statute on Guardian right to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

Fla. Stat. § 744.301 (2010)
§ 744.301. Natural guardians
(3) In addition to the authority granted in subsection (2), natural guardians are authorized, on behalf of any of their minor children, to waive and release, in advance, any claim or cause of action against a commercial activity provider, or its owners, affiliates, employees, or agents, which would accrue to a minor child for personal injury, including death, and property damage resulting from an inherent risk in the activity.
(a) As used in this subsection, the term “inherent risk” means those dangers or conditions, known or unknown, which are characteristic of, intrinsic to, or an integral part of the activity and which are not eliminated even if the activity provider acts with due care in a reasonably prudent manner. The term includes, but is not limited to:
1. The failure by the activity provider to warn the natural guardian or minor child of an inherent risk; and
2. The risk that the minor child or another participant in the activity may act in a negligent or intentional manner and contribute to the injury or death of the minor child. A participant does not include the activity provider or its owners, affiliates, employees, or agents.
(b) To be enforceable, a waiver or release executed under this subsection must, at a minimum, include the following statement in uppercase type that is at least 5 points larger than, and clearly distinguishable from, the rest of the text of the waiver or release:

Alaska

Alaska Stat. § 09.65.292 (2011)
Sec. 09.65.292. Parental waiver of child’s negligence claim against provider of sports or recreational activity
(a) Except as provided in (b) of this section, 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.
(b) A parent may not release or waive a child’s prospective claim against a provider of a sports or recreational activity for reckless or intentional misconduct.
(c) In this section,
(1) “child” means a minor who is not emancipated;
(2) “parent” means
(A) the child’s natural or adoptive parent;
(B) the child’s guardian or other person appointed by the court to act on behalf of the child;
(C) a representative of the Department of Health and Social Services if the child is in the legal custody of the state;
(D) a person who has a valid power of attorney concerning the child; or
(E) for a child not living with the child’s natural or adoptive parent, the child’s grandparent, aunt, uncle, sister, or brother who has reached the age of majority and with whom the child lives;
(3) “provider” has the meaning given in AS 09.65.290;
(4) “sports or recreational activity” has the meaning given in AS 09.65.290.

My suggestion on how the law should read.

Legislative declaration – definitions – minor children – waiver by parent or guardian of prospective negligence claims
(1) (a) The general assembly hereby finds, determines, and declares it is the public policy of this state that:
(I) Children of this state should have the maximum opportunity to participate in sporting, recreational, educational, and other activities where certain risks may exist;
(II) Public, private, and non-profit entities providing these essential activities to children in _____________ (state) need a measure of protection against lawsuits, and without the measure of protection these entities may be unwilling or unable to provide the activities;
(III) Parents have a legal and fundamental right and responsibility to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their minor children. The law has long presumed that parents act in the best interest of their children. Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57; 120 S. Ct. 2054; 147 L. Ed. 2d 49; 2000 U.S. LEXIS 3767; 68 U.S.L.W. 4458; 2000 Cal. Daily Op. Service 4345; 2000 Daily Journal DAR 5831; 2000 Colo. J. C.A.R. 3199; 13 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 365 (Troxel is a US Supreme Court decision that allows a parent to sign away a child’s right to sue. See Courtney Love in Outdoor Recreation Law.)
(IV) Parents make conscious choices every day on behalf of their children concerning the risks and benefits of participation in activities that may involve risk;
(V) These are proper parental choices on behalf of children that should not be ignored. So long as the decision is voluntary and informed, the decision should be given the same dignity as decisions regarding schooling, medical treatment, and religious education; and
(VI) It is the intent of the general assembly to encourage the affordability and availability of youth activities in this state by permitting a parent of a child to release a prospective negligence claim of the child against certain persons and entities involved in providing the opportunity to participate in the activities.
(a) “Child” means a person under eighteen years of age at the time of incident, loss, injury or accident.
(b) For purposes of this section only, “parent” means a parent, a person who has guardianship of the person, a person who has legal custody, a legal representative, a physical custodian or a responsible person, in temporary custody and control of the minor Child.
(3) A Parent of a Child may, on behalf of the Child, release and waive, in advance, any claim or cause of action against a private, commercial, governmental or non-profit, activity provider, business, program or activity, or its owners, affiliates, employees, volunteers or agents, which would accrue to a minor child for personal injury, including death, and property damage resulting from the risk or an inherent risk in the activity or the Child’s prospective claim for negligence.
(4) Nothing in this section shall be construed to permit a parent acting on behalf of his or her child to waive the child’s prospective claim against a person or entity for a willful and wanton act or omission, a reckless act or omission, or a grossly negligent act or omission.

To work you will need to round up everyone who deals with kids. Little League and other youth sports groups, day care centers, youth programs like Scouts, commercial programs like camps, day camps and anyone serving youth as well as major organizations that may be in your state like NOLS and Outward Bound.

Your statutory language may vary based on current state laws and court interpretations, but go for it.  You can only lose time and get a civics lesson.

This won’t save you money on your insurance that never happens. However, it may help keep your insurance from going up and keep you out of court.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

 
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A Parent (or Guardian) is still in control of a child, no matter what the volunteer may want.

A question posed on an Ask the Expert page has a very simple answer a very simple question.

The question asked was; must we allow adults into closed youth meetings? The simple answer is yes. There are no other answers available, no other answers to be considered, there is no other answer.

There may be other issues from various perspectives. However, we are talking about parental rights and minors.

You cannot keep a parent out of a meeting where their child is.

You can try to explain the issues; you can have the children discuss the issues with the parents. You can try anything but there is nothing else you can do other than talk and educate.

Look at this position from that of a parent. An adult is trying to tell me that I cannot go in that room where my child is. In my mind, the only real issue is will the parent slow down when they knock over the adult standing in their way.

The parent will have a lot of questions. What is going on behind that door? What is the adult trying to hide? What type of organization is my child in?

The question occurs when adults are attempting to give youth the freedom to make their own decisions and/or plan their own future. Adults intimidate and have a very difficult time staying out of the way. However, keeping adults from the room only creates additional barriers between the youth and adults. They believe that the only way they can accomplish anything is to bar adults.

The issue is not how to train the youth. The issue is how to educate and/or train the adults.

Parents need to be told both their child and by the adult volunteers what the purpose of the meeting or other function is and why they are requesting limited adult interaction. The meeting has to be done in a way that parents feel secure for their children. Finally, the meeting must be done so to protect the youth themselves and that youth protection guidelines are violated.

See Ask the Expert: Is it a violation of BSA policy to have “closed” meetings?

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You’ve got to be kidding: Chaperone liable for the death of girl on a trip

Every school takes trips and every school trip needs parents. If nothing else it is cruel and unusual punishment to require teachers to spend 24 hours a day with some kids. Most of the time the volunteer parents are called chaperones. These chaperones are volunteering their time to keep track of the students, to keep alcohol away from the students and if trip has students of both sexes around, away from each other.

An arbitrator in a case has found a chaperone liable for the death of a student on a cheerleading trip in the amount of $700,000. See $700,000 verdict gives chaperones pause

The defendant in this case traveled with another chaperone and two cheerleaders to Hawaii. Within hours of arriving the deceased was seen drinking. The deceased was found the next day on hotel grounds. The deceased was 18.

What can one adult do to tell another adult not to do? What was the chaperone supposed to do, call the police? You can tell an adult to do or not do something, but that is about it.

Not much else is said about the deceased or how she died. There is nothing in the article stating the exact legal reasoning or claim the plaintiff argued that lead to the award. Nor are any discussions about defenses such volunteer immunity or a release.

What is going to occur is less people are going to want to volunteer to be chaperones.

There are a few things you can do to protect yourself in these situations.

Make sure the school or the school association has liability insurance to protect you. Make sure you have a lot of homeowner’s insurance; normally your homeowner’s insurance is going to be the primary insurance company, or the one out front. Try and get an agreement with the parents stating what you can and cannot do and what you are willing to try. Have the parent’s sign a release. Require parents to provide you with a phone number where they can be reached for the entire trip.

Insist on sufficient chaperones for the number and age of the students. Very young students and teenagers have the same propensity to “wonder away” and get in trouble.

Most importantly don’t put up with anything. Dependent upon the age of the student and what the parent says, deliver the student to the airport, put them on a plane and send them home if they are not obeying the rules. If the parent requires a chaperone to accompany the student home, the parent must agree in advance to pay for the cost of the student and chaperone coming home early.

This article raises a lot of legal questions. Why was the chaperone held liable for the actions of another adult? What duty was breached by the chaperone? We may never know, but school dances just took on a whole new set of worries. Spiking the punch bowl went from a prank to a negligent act.

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