By Doyice Cotten
This is the fifth of an eight-part series on the enforceability of liability waivers of negligence when the sport or recreation participant is a minor.
As discussed in a previous post, some states distinguish parental waivers utilized by commercial entities from parental waivers relied upon by schools and community recreation entities.
Florida, too, was mentioned in an earlier post in regard to F.S. 744.301  which established the enforceability of parental waivers of the inherent risks of the activity; guidelines were prescribed.
In terms of parental waivers of liability for negligence, courts have distinguished between commercial entities and non-profit school or community recreation agencies. The Florida Supreme Court in Kirton v. Fields (2008) clearly ruled that parental waivers designed to protect commercial entities from liability for negligence were unenforceable.
Four years earlier, a Florida appellate court (Gonzalez v. City of Coral Gables, 2004) enforced a parental waiver used by the city’s explorer program because it was used for a commonplace child-oriented community or school-supported activity. The Supreme Court has issued no conflicting ruling regarding such waivers. So, it would seem that school/community associated waivers continue to be enforceable until the Florida Supreme Court rules otherwise.
The North Dakota Supreme Court has enforced parental waivers on two occasions – one involving the Bismarck Park District (Kondrad v. Bismarck Park District, 2003) and one involving the Bismarck Public Schools (Hillerson v. Bismarck Public Schools, 2013).
No cases involving a parental waiver for commercial entities were found, so how the court would rule when a commercial entity is relying on the waiver is unknown at this time.
No cases have been found in which a North Carolina state court ruled on the validity of a parental waiver; however, in 2014, a U.S. District Court enforced a parental waiver after a 15-year-old girl was injured while participating on an obstacle course at a JROTC orientation program (Kelly v. United States of America, 2014). The court weighed the argument of public interest in protecting the safety of minor children against the argument that there is a public interest in facilitating non-commercial services to children without the risks of overwhelming litigation costs.
No cases have been found that address the issue of parental waivers for commercial entities.
Post VI next week will present three states in which courts have enforced parental waivers utilized by commercial entities or courts have enforced waivers for both commercial entities and school- or community recreation entities.
Photo Credit: Thanks to Verse Photography in Flickr.