What happens if I sign a release for my child to attend summer camp?

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As the Kenny Chesney song goes, Summertime is finally here! And with that comes summer camps for the kids. Nowadays nearly every childrens’ activity will involve a parent signing a release which purports to hold the camp harmless in the event the child is hurt while at camp in a freak hunting accident like the one warned about in Meatballs: “Important announcement – Some hunters have been seen in the woods near Piney Ridge trail and the fish and game commission has raised the legal kill limit on campers to three. So, if you’re hiking today, please wear something bright and keep low.” (As an aside, isn’t it a little strange how parents are quick to sign these releases without so much as questioning the camp director about it? Heck, what if the reason for the release is that years ago a camp attendee drowned in the lake and his psycho mom is back looking for revenge? Come on parents, wake up and ask some questions!)

Most parents think if their child gets hurt after signing a release then they cannot do anything about it. We field calls all the time about the validity of such releases. Can a camp, or other recreational activity, limit their liability by having a parent sign a release? The short answer is “no”, the release is not valid.

Our Mississippi Supreme Court has long held that releases which seek to limit the liability of a party are looked up on with disfavor but releases can be valid. The Court construes these releases with a “jaundiced eye” (I really don’t know what that means but I’ve read it a lot in cases and always wanted to use it in a sentence) and will only be enforced if the release is “fairly and honestly negotiated and understood by both parties”.

So what does all that mean? Well, the releases that parents sign when they enroll their kid in sports,camps, or even daycares are all pre-printed forms. The parent does not negotiate the terms of the release and most of the time is not even aware that they are signing a release. The Supreme Court has taken the view that such “pre-printed releases” are not valid and will not be upheld. This also goes for waivers signed by adults. Typically, every health club nowadays has a pre-printed release which every member must sign. However, as with releases signed by kids, the releases will not be upheld because the terms are not negotiated.

So why do business use these pre-printed release forms even if they are not valid? Simply because most people will think they are valid and won’t even bother to challenge them if they get hurt. It’s really a win win for the businesses but the consumer, as usual, is the one who loses. Imagine all of the medical bills that parents have had to pay simply because a business told them “you signed the release so we are not responsible”.

If you or your child ever get hurt and you think you have a claim, don’t think that a release will keep you from getting your medical bills paid. You still can hold the business responsible if it was their fault. Learn more about Coxwell & Associates on our website. Have a safe summer from you friends at Coxwell & Associates!

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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