Recently a concerned parent contacted me about the releases she has to sign every time she signs her children up for an activity. These releases seem to shield the sponsoring organization from any liability if the children get hurt. She asked:
“is there a way to opt out of these things and still have my child participate? If I sign it and god forbid something terrible happens, do I still have any rights if I feel the company did something wrong?”
As a parent myself, I am all too familiar with this concern. It seems everyone is trying to protect themselves from liability these days. Here’s what I told that mom:
Lots of places require you to sign liability waivers in order to participate, and they are able to make that a requirement. However, Washington courts have held that a waiver does not protect a business or organization from liability for injuries resulting from their own negligence. If they are careless and that results in an injury, you can almost always overcome a signed release. However, the release would likely protect them from liability for someone else’s negligence during the activity.
In other words, if the company offering the activity failed to provide adequate supervision, used defective products, or otherwise failed to exercise reasonable care for the safety of your child, a court will likely disregard the waiver and allow them to be held liable for their own carelessness. However, if the company does nothing wrong and your child gets hurt, either due to her own carelessness, the carelessness of another, or a simple accident, it is likely that the release you signed will shield the company from liability. However, you may have a claim against another responsible person if you can prove they were negligent.
The bottom line is sometimes kids get hurt – especially while engaged in strenuous physical activity. However, if that injury is the result of another person’s carelessness, the law usually provides a legal remedy.