Florida Supreme Court forbids parents from signing waivers on behalf of children

Posted Wednesday, March 18, 2009 11:22 AM | Contributed by Jeff

Gatorland's "Trainer for a Day" is the ultimate natural thrill ride: a two-hour chance for guests to work alongside reptile trainers as they handle the theme park's signature tenants. It used to be open to children as young as 12. But in February, Gatorland made it an adults-only experience. The move was among the earliest responses to a recent Florida Supreme Court decision that parents do not have authority to sign away children's right to sue before they take part in potentially dangerous commercial activities.

Read more from The Orlando Sentinel.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009 11:31 AM

Hmmmm, wondering whether or not kids will be able to ride "extreme rides" that require waivers such as skycoasters...somehow I think this will end up in a higher court yet, since kids under 18 cannot legally contract for themselves (except under special circumstances).

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009 11:34 AM

As the legal guardian, doesn't the parent have the legal right to sign the waiver? This sounds like a court with its head in its ass.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009 11:46 AM

So Gator, ever named one of your RCT parks "Gatorland"? ;)

I agree that this decision seems strange. Then again, if the parents can't sign a waiver, can the kid sign a legally binding waiver?

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009 11:58 AM

This is the state that wrote a monorail into its constitution. That's all I'm sayin'. :)

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009 12:48 PM

And how many states have their own tag on Fark?

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009 1:11 PM

Everybody point and laugh at Florida.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009 1:35 PM

Once again I am embarassed.

One of these days I am going to move back to America.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009 2:35 PM

I overheard a native at Disney World complaining about how so many people "speak Mexican" when they should be "speaking American."

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009 3:07 PM

Classic State of Florida legal system in action. The mandatory minimum penalties are more severe if you drink too much and drive your car into a tree than if you ring someone's doorbell stone sober and stab them to death.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009 5:20 PM

Juggalotus said:
As the legal guardian, doesn't the parent have the legal right to sign the waiver? This sounds like a court with its head in its ass.

In the State of Florida, apparently such right is not given to the parent anymore. That's EXACTLY what the court case was about. More precisely, in this particular case, the kid's father signed the waiver, the kid was killed, and the kid's mother, claiming she was unaware of the activity or the waiver, sued the attraction operator on behalf of the kid's estate. The court upheld her right to do so, effectively saying that no, parents as legal guardians cannot sign away their children's right to sue.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009 10:44 PM

Without actually seeing the ruling, it sounds like ANY
activity that has required a parental waiver is no longer
permitted. This would be school athletics of all kinds,
field trips, Little League, AYSO, Pop Warner the list 
goes on. Whoa this is scary. 

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Thursday, March 19, 2009 9:44 AM

^ - that's the scary part. The parents sign a waiver so the kid can play soccer/football/hockey/baseball whatever. Kid gets hurt and now the parents can turn around and sue the school. What does it take for people to take responsibility for their actions any more?

Dave - I understand what you are saying that the mom wasn't aware of Dad being a moron (waiver or not, who would let their kid "train" gators), but this seems like a terrible ruling.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009 9:50 AM

Juggalotus said:
What does it take for people to take responsibility for their actions any more?

I imagine getting sued would work. :)

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Thursday, March 19, 2009 11:04 AM

rollergator said:
Hmmmm, wondering whether or not kids will be able to ride "extreme rides" that require waivers such as skycoasters...

What you sign at a Skycoaster is not a waiver, although every single flyer is convinced you are lying when you tell them that. It's merely a log, nothing more.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009 11:29 AM

^Weird....At Wild Adventures (granted a few years back), they actually asked for IDs before signing the form which held the standard liability language...I thought it was funny since the only real way to get injured would seem to be the result of operator gross negligence, which cannot be disclaimed AFAIK.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009 12:18 PM

I'm not sure I buy the logic behind the ruling. This situation wasn't brought on because a child was stripped of his right to sue by a parent's waiver. It was brought on because mom didn't agree with dad's decision to sign the waiver.

There's a difference. The child is not suing anyone in the case of the ATV accident; he unfortunately died. The estate (AKA mom) is the one suing.

Welcome to the world of split and/or blended families where the definition of parent is about as clear as mud. What business wants to be responsible for deciding whether a person who presents themselves as a parent actually has the right to make parental decisions (i.e. do they have custody or as a stepparent, have they adopted the child, etc?)

I think there's a lot going on with this ruling, but I think very little of it has to do with the children.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009 12:32 PM

Juggalotus said:
Dave - I understand what you are saying that the mom wasn't aware of Dad being a moron (waiver or not, who would let their kid "train" gators), but this seems like a terrible ruling.

Read the story. The kid who died wasn't "training gators." His father took him to an ATV park where he was killed in a wreck.

This sounds more like a custody and parenting issue than liability. Why is the ATV park liable? Were they supposed to know that mom and dad are divorced and dad isn't the custodial parent and mom is the only one who has a say in what her kid can and can't do? Was the divorce and custody decree written that way?

So it appears the situation is that the parent can't sign away the child's right to sue (or the parents right to sue on their behalf) and a child probably can't legally waive their rights themselves. This leaves businesses with the choice of accepting all liability or denying use of their facilities to minors. We know which way businesses will go.

Interesting twist-- if the parent can't sign the waiver on behalf of the child, can the child sue saying that the parent doesn't have the right to prohibit him from doing something?

I also wonder what the effect will be on "implied" waivers. "By purchasing a ticket to this amusement park, hockey game, etc., you agree to the following..."

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Thursday, March 19, 2009 10:29 PM

Juggalotus said:

Dave - I understand what you are saying that the mom wasn't aware of Dad being a moron (waiver or not, who would let their kid "train" gators), but this seems like a terrible ruling.

Just to clarify two points...

1) I wasn't defending the ruling in my previous post, merely trying to explain it. I agree; it sounds like a horrible chilling effect.

2) While the article referred to gator 'training', the incident which prompted the ruling actually involved a kid driving, jumping, and flipping an off-road vehicle on an adventure course of some kind. As I understand it, the "gator training" actually has a good safety record, as it is closely monitored by people who actually do know what they are doing.

Now to go read the rest of the comments in this thread...

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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Friday, March 20, 2009 9:27 AM

Yeah, that was my fault. I read the blurb at the top and didn't read the rest of the article. Seeing that it was 4 wheelers doesn't change anything though. 4 wheelers aren't toys, and a 14 year old doesn't have the strength to be able to keep one under control if they start to lose it. Heck, even riding mine the couple times a year that I do, I still have a tendency to put my foot down when I feel it starting to roll (which is a good way to get my leg broken).

Now, if Dad thought he could handle it and let him ride, why does Mom get to sue the park? I could understand suing Dad for putting their child in harms way, but then again he doensn't have the pockets that the park does.

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