By Doyice Cotten
Many businesses and organizations, like Mississippi State University, require parents to sign a liability waiver on behalf of their minor child or children. However, Mississippi law on the enforceability of such waivers is unclear.
The Mississippi Supreme Court stated in Khoury v. Saik (1948) that “It is well settled that the infant can waive none of his rights.” It went on to say “Minors can waive nothing. In the law they are helpless, so much so that their representatives can waive nothing for them. . . .” This seemed to clearly prohibit the enforcement of parental waivers of liability.
In Quinn v. Mississippi State University (1998), however, the enforceability of the parental waiver on behalf of the 12-year old baseball player was examined only in regard to an ambiguity in the waiver language. It was unclear whether both sides had intended the waiver to protect Mississippi State from liability for its own negligence.
The undersigned applicant and parent/guardian understand that the applicant will be engaging in physical activity during the program which contains an inherent risk of physical injury and the undersigned assumes the risk, indemnifies, and releases Mississippi State Baseball Camp, its officers, Directors, Agents, and Employees from any and all liability for personal injury arising out of the applicant’s participation in the Camp
The waiver was not enforced because of the ambiguity (mentions only inherent risks, does not specify negligence); one could presume that the Supreme Court would have enforced the waiver had it been unambiguous. In a dissenting opinion, two of the judges stated “I further would find that twelve-year-old Brandon Quinn could not be bound by his signature on the release.” In addition, the dissent read:
The fact that a release was signed does not abrogate the University from responsibility for young Brandon’s injuries. Neither Brandon nor his father can be held to a release from liability for prospective, unspecified injuries. Moreover, a twelve-year-old cannot be found to have signed a release with a full understanding of his legal rights. For more than a century, we have zealously protected the rights of minors and held that they cannot waive any of their rights. (Quinn citing Price v. Crone, 1871)
And yet, the issue of the parental waiver was not addressed in the majority decision and so the issue remains unclear.