Update on Effect of Parental Waivers for Children

In 2008, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that a child's ability to sue for a personal injury is not impaired despite any pre-injury waivers signed by the child's parent. The case of Woodman v. Kera, L.L.C., 280 Mich. App. 125 (2008), involved a 5-year-old boy who was injured at an indoor recreation facility. The boy's father had signed a pre-injury waiver, purporting to hold the recreation facility harmless if any injuries occurred to the child. According to the Court, the waiver could not prevent the child from pursuing a lawsuit against the facility. This conclusion was based on the common law rule that a parent lacks authority to waive, release, or compromise his or her child's claims merely by virtue of the parental-child relationship. A parent, absent a specific exception created by the Michigan Legislature, cannot authorize an act that is detrimental to the child.

This case, which has far-reaching effects on commercial recreation establishments, churches, and schools, is currently under review by the Michigan Supreme Court. Oral argument on the case was heard by the Supreme Court in October of 2009, and an opinion is expected sometime later this year. It is also possible for the State Legislature to enact an exception to the general rule cited in Woodman, either before or after a decision is reached.

In the meantime, Woodman remains the rule in Michigan, and therefore establishments are best served by acting prudently and maintaining adequate insurance. While it is not recommended to discontinue the use of pre-injury waivers, awareness of the limited protection afforded by the waivers is important. For more information about this matter, please contact us.