By Doyice Cotten
[It is interesting (frustrating) that this Indiana case (and 2 more parental waiver cases to be addressed soon) have been recently published and found just days after a summary article for parental waivers appeared on this website.]
A 17-year-old girl playing in a summer baseball/softball league was injured while sliding into second base (Wabash County Young Men’s Christian Association, Inc. v. Thompson, 2012 Ind. App. LEXIS 428). She sued the YMCA alleging negligence because the base was “fixed” and presented a rigid obstacle. The YMCA filed a motion to dismiss, attaching the following permission slip/waiver to the motion:
I (parent or guardian) Charlene Thompson hereby give permission for Taylor Thompson to participate in Metro League Baseball/Softball. I further understand that injuries can occur and will not hold the field, sponsor, coaching staff or league responsible for injury or medical expenses incurred while participating in practice [*3] or playing in a game. I also affirm that my child is physically fit to participate in athletic activities.
The trial court denied the motion to dismiss and the issue was appealed.
The Appellate Court
The plaintiff relied on the Ind. Code § 29-3-9-7(b) which provides:
Whenever a minor has a disputed claim against another person, whether arising in contract, tort, or otherwise, and a guardian for the minor and the minor’s property has not been appointed, the parents of the minor may compromise the claim. However, before the compromise is valid, it must be approved by the court upon filing of a petition requesting the court’s approval. If the court approves the compromise, it may direct that the settlement be paid in accordance with IC 29-3-3-1. If IC 29-3-3-1 is not applicable, the court shall require that a guardian be appointed and that the settlement be delivered to the guardian [*8] upon the terms that the court directs.
Validity of Parental Waivers
In response the YMCA argued that the statute applied to post-injury claims and settlements, not pre-injury releases. It went on to say that “if Taylor’s argument is accepted, it would render all releases signed by parents to allow their children to participate in school and sporting events ineffective and meaningless.” It contended that it “would be impossible for parents to obtain court approval for every release or hold harmless agreement for every club, hobby, camp, and sporting activity for each of their children.”
Reference to “Negligence” Required
The court agreed that the statute was inapplicable and concluded that the waiver was valid, holding that it was not appropriate to equate pre- and post-injury releases. In so ruling, the court indicated that parental waivers are enforceable in Indiana.
The court then addressed the question of whether the waiver applied to the plaintiff’s injury. It cited Indiana law supporting waivers and emphasized the fact that waivers could protect against liability for negligence only if the waiver specifically and explicitly refers to the negligence of the party seeking release of liability.
The waiver did not refer to “negligence of the YMCA,” so it did not protect against liability for negligence. The court noted, however, that the injury was caused by an inherent risk (sliding into a base) – not negligence. Hence, the court held that the waiver did protect the YMCA from liability for injuries resulting from the inherent risks of the activity. Subsequently, since there were no genuine issues of material fact, the YMCA was granted summary judgment.
While this ruling was not made by the Indiana Supreme Court, it does move Indiana into the growing group of states that are likely to uphold properly worded parental waivers.
Photo Credit: Thanks to SD Dirk at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dirkhansen/6824336323/sizes/n/ for the photo.