Most parents have experienced this exact scenario. They have minor children, who want to go with their friends to the popular local trampoline park, but in order to participate, the parents are asked to sign a liability waiver or release of claims. These liability waivers are also common at ski resorts, snow tubing, little league and other youth sports.
Typically, when a person signs a liability waiver, they forfeit any right they may have had in pursuing claims for injuries based on any alleged fault of the facility or organization they are releasing. In my experience, most people do not take the time to read the fine print and simply sign, as a prerequisite for their kid being allowed to participate.
But the question at hand is – are parents allowed to sign away their child’s rights to pursue claims for injuries? Under Pennsylvania law, a liability waiver signed by a parent for their child, is not enforceable to any of the injury claims the child may have against the released party.
It is clear, under Pennsylvania law that “[A] valid release is an absolute bar to recovery for everything included in the release, and it can only be set aside as any contract . . . in the presence of clear, precise and indubitable evidence of fraud, accidental means or incompetence of the party who is alleged to have signed it.” Dorenzo v. General Motors Corporation, 334 F. Supp. 1155, 1156 (E. D. Pa. 1971), quoting, Mannke v. Benjamin Moore & Co., 375 F.2d 281, 285 (3d Cir. 1967)
Where a minor executes a contract, however, the agreement is not "void," but rather, "voidable." See, Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 7 (1981). After reaching the age of majority, the minor may disaffirm the contract, thereby rendering it a nullity. See, e.g., Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 14 (1981). See also Pankas v. Bell, 413 Pa. 494, 498, 198 A.2d 312, 313 (1964); Aetna Casualty & Surety Co. v. Duncan, 972 F.2d 523, 526 (3d Cir. 1992) and Simmons v. Parkette National Gymnastic Training Center, 670 F. Supp. 140, 142 (E.D. Pa. 1987).
This means that a parent cannot validly sign away their minor’s right to pursue injury claims by signing the liability waiver. However, by signing the waiver, a parent could arguably give up any claims they have as parents to pursue claim against the facility, related to their child being injured.
Courts have found, under Pennsylvania law, “parents do not possess the authority to release the claims or potential claims of a minor child merely because of the parental relationship.” Simmons at 143 (quoting Apicella v. Valley Forge Military Academy, 630 F. Supp. 20 (E.D. Pa. 1985)). See also, Schmucker v. Naugle, 426 Pa. 203, 204-205, 231 A.2d 121 (1967); Campbell v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 307 Pa. 365, 370-71, 161 A. 310 (1932); Langdon v. Strawhecker, 46 D.&C.2d 764, 766 (Mercer C.P. 1969).
In Shaner v. State Sys. of Higher Educ, the county court determined a parent could not release her minor daughter’s personal injury claims related to injuries the daughter suffered at a softball camp just because she was her mother. See Shaner v. State Sys. of Higher Educ., 1998 Pa. Dist. & Cnty. Dec. LEXIS 20, *5-6, 40 Pa. D. & C.4th 308, 312-313 (affirmed by the Pa. Commonwealth Court 1999).
Similarly, courts have found a parents’ signing of a waiver, releasing all injury claims against a school unenforceable as to the minor child (Apicella v. Valley Forge Military Academy and Junior College, 630 F. Supp.20, 23 (E.D.Pa.1985) and allowing a minor to pursue a claim against a gymnastics facility even though the parent has signed a liability waiver (Simmons by Grenell v. Parkette National Gymnastics Training Center, 670 F.Supp. 140 (E.D.Pa. 1987). However, in these cases, the parents would not likely be able to pursue any claims they have related to their children’s claims.
The law is clear that a parent cannot validly sign away their minor’s personal injury claim merely because of the parental relationship. However, the parent can sign away any potential claim they have as a result of their child’s injury. Also, a minor could potentially take action once they reach 18 years old that would validate and affirm the waiver.
The best course of action is to understand what you are signing and if you are uncomfortable or do not understand, do not allow your minor child to participate. Your kids may not be happy, but in the long run, you may be protecting them and yourself.
At Metzger Wickersham, our attorneys can guide you through your legal questions. Contact us to discuss the details of your personal injury case.
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