Sunday, October 24, 2010

Liability Waivers signed by Parents on Behalf of their Children are Not Valid in Michigan

On June 18, 2010, the Michigan Supreme Court in Woodman v Kera LLC d/b/a Bounce City, ruled that recreational providers and businesses providing services to children cannot avoid liability for negligently causing harm to children by having parents sign pre-injury waivers on behalf of their children.  In doing so, the Michigan Supreme Court upheld year of common law indicating that parents cannot waive, release, or compromise claims on behalf of the children.   
What does this mean for equine professionals that provide services to children?  Well, if you have a minor child sign a liability waiver, it is unenforceable.  As Michigan law indicates, minors lack the capacity to contract in Michigan.  Additionally, if you have the parents sign the waiver on behalf of the child, it is also unenforceable because the common law says so.  So, what do you do?
The answer is not clear.  In the case opinion, the majority opinion eluded to using a parental indemnity agreement. Such an agreement could indicate that the parent would be liable to the equine professional for any damages paid out on behalf of the child, if the child received an injury.  This may be a possible solution; however, the Supreme Court never addressed this issue because it was not in front of the Court at the time.
Another possible solution is to make sure that your insurance covers such injuries.  Most, if not all, equine professionals should have at least standard equine commercial liability insurance.  This type of insurance covers accidents and injuries affecting humans and some property damage.
The moral of the story is to be smart when you are working with children. If you have any doubt about what you should do, seek help.   Click to read the Woodman v Kera LLC opinion.

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