By Doyice Cotten
Utah law regarding the enforcement of parental waivers has been clearly established since the Hawkins v. Peart Utah Supreme Court decision in 2001. The Court ruled that it was against public policy for a parent to release the prospective negligence claim prior to or after an injury.
In a 2013 case (Penunuri v. Sundance Partners, LTD), however, the Utah Supreme Court examined the Utah Equine Statute passed in 2003. The Penunuri Court noted that in some sport safety statutes the Legislature has specifically prohibited contractual waivers referring to them as “void and unenforceable” and contrary to public policy. Since the Equine Act contained no such expression, the Court presumed that the omission was purposeful and concluded that the Equine Act does not invalidate preinjury releases of liability for ordinary negligence.
It was also apparent from the statute that the Legislature meant to allow the enforcement of equine waivers in which the parent or guardian signed the document on behalf of a minor child. The relevant portion of the Utah Equine Statute (37 Utah Code § 78B-4-203(1)) follows:
78B-4-203. Signs to be posted listing inherent risks and liability limitations.
(1) An equine or livestock activity sponsor shall provide notice to participants of the equine or livestock activity that there are inherent risks of participating and that the sponsor is not liable for certain of those risks.
(2) Notice shall be provided by:
(a) posting a sign in a prominent location within the area being used for the activity; or
(b) providing a document or release for the participant, or the participant’s legal guardian if the participant is a minor, to sign. (Bold added.)
The Court concluded “that the Equine Act does not invalidate preinjury releases for ordinary negligence. . . . Accordingly, we conclude that the Waiver is enforceable, and we affirm the decision of the court of appeals.” Thus, it seems that equine-related parental waivers are enforceable in Utah.