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What you should know about liability waivers for your children

As parents we are often asked to sign waivers that will allow our children to participate in school athletic programs, swimming lessons, rock climbing birthday parties and a myriad of other recreational activities. The inherent nature of the waiver is to absolve the service provider of any and all liability in the event of a mishap on behalf of the participant. On the surface, it seems that by signing the waiver, you are accepting responsibility for all associated risks and voluntarily relinquishing your right to sue.

What you may not know, is that although liability waivers are typically viewed as a contract, they are not always upheld in court.

Minors are unable to legally sign a contract and are therefore not bound by the waiver. As a result, many facilities will require the parent or guardian to co-sign the waiver along with the child. It’s important to know that in New York State, a parent cannot legally sign away their child’s legal rights. This means that the facility remains liable for negligent acts and leaves the possibility open for the parents or the child himself (once he reaches the age of 18) to seek compensation.

You may be wondering why the facility will bother with a waiver that they know cannot be enforced. It may simply be to discourage lawsuits by parents who believe they have relinquished their rights. More importantly, it may contain language which advises the parents of particular dangers related to the activity and could implicate the parent as negligent for allowing their child to participate.

Under what circumstances can you consider filing a legal suit?

An company, organization or educational institution will be held liable in the event of gross negligence, regardless of whether a liability waiver has been signed or not. Gross negligence primarily occurs when there is a failure to correct a problem after it has been reported. In the case of ordinary negligence, court could find in favor of the complaint if it is found that there was “the failure to act as a reasonably prudent professional would act under the circumstances.” These circumstances can include broken equipment, safety hazards or accidental bad advice from a professional.

Important facts to regarding waivers and minors:

  • A liability waiver signed only by a minor is not a valid contract.
  • Most courts have ruled that a parent cannot sign away their child’s right to sue for negligence.
  • Only six states have upheld a waiver signed by a minor and a parent.
  • Agreement to participate forms and permission slips do not grant liability protection to a facility.

Before signing, always remember:

  • DON’T sign without reading.
  • DON’T sign if you don’t understand.
  • DON’T assume all waivers are the same.
  • DON’T assume you’ll never recover damages.

If you or your child has been injured and you have doubts about whether you may be entitled to compensation, you should contact an attorney.

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