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"Hey Mom and Dad, it's your friendly local school district. I've got a form I need you to sign real quick. Oh, it's just this release form for this field trip that the kids are getting ready to go on. What about that clause with the waiver of any and all personal injury claims? It's just the usual legal mumbo jumbo. Anyway, your daughter can't go if you don't sign it."
The Iowa Supreme Court put a major legal smackdown on such situations last week. The court ruled that injury release forms signed by parents for their kids' field trips are unenforceable. The parents of a 14 year-old Taneia Galloway brought the case against the school district in 2005. Galloway was hit by a car while on the school field trip. Her parents sued, but were challenged in court by district, which claimed that the waiver protected them.
The court disagreed, finding that parents cannot fully understand the nature of the risks involved when they sign the releases. In addition, the children may not have the ability to evaluate the situation and avoid suffering an injury on a field trip due to their youth and lack of maturity.
The school countered that if parents could not sign these kinds of waivers, there would be an end to field trips as we know it. The court was clearly unconvinced, calling "the fear of dire consequences ... speculative and overstated."
"[Y]ou can't stand behind a waiver that signs the kid's rights away," Galloway's attorney, Ryan Beattie, said. "A parent can't waive the potential negligence of a person or party."
Release forms are a popular topic in the legal world. The truth is, most people don't read them and have very little idea what they are signing. However, they probably should, because except in the most extreme cases, they are usually enforceable. There are some things which courts will not allow you to use a waiver to protect, like illegal acts, liability from malpractice and intentional torts.
But generally speaking, most language in the majority of waiver forms are enforceable. So read what you're signing and if you don't like it, feel free to cross stuff out--it's fun. You're free to reject any part of a waiver that you don't like. Of course, the business or person is also free to choose not to allow you to participate without signing the waiver as well. Freedom of contract, baby.
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