A youth was on a trip with a Scout troop which is a program of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). Sometime on the trip, the minor bought a slingshot. The slingshot was confiscated by a volunteer leader on the trip. At the end of the trip, the slingshot was given to the parents of the minor.
Later the minor was playing with the slingshot with another youth, and the other youth was injured by the slingshot. Either the minor had gotten the slingshot somehow or the parents had given the slingshot back to the minor, although this was not specifically stated in the opinion.
The parents of the minor injured by the slingshot, the plaintiffs, sued the volunteer adult leaders of the trip for the minor’s injuries.
The court in a succinct and short decision held the adult volunteers were not liable for the minor’s injuries. The basis for the decision was the action of the volunteer in giving the minor back to the parents was a superseding intervening act, which stops the claim.
A superseding act, eliminates the relationship between the damages which caused the injury and the duty owed. That means negligence cannot be proven. The damages are not proximate to the duty owed. Negligence has four parts, all which must be proven:
- A duty
- Breach of the duty
- Damages proximately caused by the breach of duty.
The court’s decision says the fourth step cannot be proven because of the superseding act. The parents taking control of their child was an intervening act which the court said did not tie the duty and the damages to together legally. Stated another way, there was no relationship between the act of the volunteer and the injury received by the minor.
The plaintiffs seem to argue that the adult volunteer should not have given the slingshot back to the parents. However, the slingshot was a possession, a piece of property owned by the minor and as such, his parents. The slingshot was given back to the owners as required by the law.
The relationship between a parent and a volunteer who is spending his or her time with the child is tenuous. As a volunteer you must be clear what your responsibilities are and are not going to be, as well as when that responsibility ends. It does not need to be so formal. It can simply be in the trip information that the kids have to be at the church by 7:00 PM and parents must pick their kids up Sunday at 2:00 PM at the church.
Most times, volunteers worry about injuries to the minor as a liability issue. There are other issues that can come up that you should be prepared to deal with.
Search and Rescue costs if a minor is lost can be substantial. (See No Charge for Rescue). Damages to property or injury to other minors can create liability for the adult volunteer responsible. A forest fire started by a minor can be costly. Even though most state courts will not allow a parent to release the claims of a minor for injuries, courts will allow releases or contracts where the parent agrees to pay for other claims the minor may create.
You can inform the parent and make sure they understand (meaning a written document) that they are responsible for any damages the minor may create for a reason other than injuries to themselves. I would include damages for the minor’s injuries on a different form. You do not want the court to throughout one release for the minor’s injuries when what you needed was protection for the damages done for the minors.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
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