Parents, Kids & Releases: Midwest Courts Still Not In Agreement
By Alexander “Sandie” Pendleton

Many businesses, organizations and events have parents sign waiver-of-liability forms on behalf of minors. Recent Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan court decisions again show that Midwest courts come to conflicting conclusions on whether those forms are enforceable.

In a decision released in 2012 involving a minor who was injured while playing softball, an Indiana appellate court held that the waiver agreement the minor’s parents had signed before she was injured barred her claim. Similarly, in a 2009 decision involving a boy who was injured during "horse-play" at a baseball camp, a Minnesota appellate court concluded that the registration and waiver form signed by the boy's mother barred the boy's and his parents' claims against the camp. Appellate decisions in North Dakota and in Wisconsin have come to similar conclusions in cases involving parents signing such forms for minors. (Note that the Wisconsin Supreme Court—which has tended to disfavor the enforceability of waiver agreements—has not yet ruled on this issue. Note too, that as of the date of this article—April 2013—the Minnesota legislature was considering bills that would void waivers in many circumstances.) 

In contrast, courts in other Midwest states have come to an opposite conclusion, holding that as a matter of public policy or common law, courts in those states will not enforce such releases.  Those states include Michigan, Illinois and Iowa. (For details about Michigan and Iowa, see our articles “Michigan Supreme Court Holds Releases Signed by Parents Unenforceable” and “Iowa Supreme Court Holds that Pre-Injury Releases Signed by Parents are Unenforceable”).

Given the uncertainty in this area, caution remains important. Carefully crafted and deployed agreement terms are essential, if a business, organization or individual wants to have any hope of convincing a court to enforce the terms of a waiver of liability form.

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