Legal Articles

Curnow-optimized.jpgYouth Activities and the Actual Effect of Parental Waivers

BY ROSS CURNOW | HOPKINS & HUEBNER, P.C. | DES MOINES OFFICE

From little league, flag football, and junior hockey, to dance, gymnastics and soccer, kids in Iowa certainly have many options when it comes to opportunities outside of the classroom.  While the kids get to run and play with friends, parents get to enjoy the fun of navigating registration forms, budgeting in league fees, and arranging car pools.

Usually within that list of responsibilities is the review and completion of a waiver of liability.  A waiver is an agreement wherein a parent releases the activity association from any liability related to injuries suffered by their child during participation.  These waivers are so routine that most associations won’t allow a child to participate without signing a waiver.

Plot twist: these waivers are unenforceable in Iowa.  This unexpected reality is the result of an Iowa Supreme Court decision, in which the Court held that the public policy of protecting children from irresponsible actions of parents in other contexts also precludes the enforcement of preinjury waivers signed by parents on behalf of their kids. Galloway v. State, 790 N.W.2d 252 (Iowa 2010).  

Consequently, what was essentially a standard condition of participation in youth activities is suddenly worthless.  Even despite that decision, most parents and activity associations are unaware of the new legal reality and continue to issue and sign these waivers.

So where do we go from here?  Should parents just prevent their kids from participating altogether?  Of course not.  We just need to reassess the liability question.

From an activity association’s perspective, it’s probably not the best idea to totally ditch the waiver agreement.  Instead, change the waiver to an assumption of risk agreement that accurately describes the risks associated with an activity, but does not provide a complete release of liability.  The Court invalidated preinjury waivers but it did not alter Iowa’s assumption of risk principles.

As a parent, carefully review the documents you’re completing during the registration process.  Try to make a candid determination of whether an activity involves certain risks and dangers, and if an activity association is shifting more legal responsibility than permitted.  

Ultimately, whether you are a member of an activity association, the proud parent of a participant, or both, discussing your questions on the risks and liability associated with youth activities with an attorney can make all the difference.  Get past the legal concerns, and get to the fun of youth activities!