Are Pre-injury Releases and Indemnity Agreements for Children Valid?

The kid’s activity businesses are the hottest trend of the 2000s.  Things like Bouncy-rooms, Gymnastics, Laser Tag, Go-Karts, Karate, Kick-boxing all cater to making your child’s birthday party big and memorable.  Whether your child is joining one as an ongoing activity or attending a one-time birthday party, all these places seem to have one thing in common. They require the parent and/or child to sign some sort of waiver/release of liability if the child gets injured. But, are the documents you sign really valid?

Can a Child Enter Into A Release?

A Release is a type of contract to give up a right to sue. As a general rule of long-standing law, a child under the age of 18 cannot legally enter into a contract. Thus, any contract entered into a minor, including a release, is voidable.

Can Parent Waive a Child’s Rights in Texas?

example of a liability waiverNo. In the 1990s, the Texas Supreme Court looked at the issue of whether or not the parent could enter into such a contract on the child’s behalf. They held that a release of liability pre-injury, signed by a parent of the injured child was void.  The logic behind this decision was that it was a matter of Texas public policy to protect children–even from their own parent’s actions. Thus, any contract attempting to give up the child’s right to bring a claim against someone for their future, yet unseen, negligence is void.

Despite the above, releases are still required by all of these facilities. Why?  The answer is in the language–they are not just releases, they are indemnity agreements.

What is the Difference Between a Release and an Indemnity Agreement?

A release and an indemnity agreement differ slightly in language, but drastically in legal meaning. A release is an agreement to give up a person’s future rights now.  An indemnity agreement, however, is an agreement by the signor (parent) agreeing to hold the indemnitee harmless or free of responsibility from future claims.  The latter is in effect an insurance agreement that does not relinquish the future right but promises to assume the debt it creates.

A Houston Court of Appeals has addressed the validity of a release and indemnity agreement. In that case, the court held that while the release signed by the parent was against public policy, the indemnity agreement was not.

What is the Effect of a Release and Indemnity Agreement Signed by Only One Parent?

When only one parent signs the agreement, it is void as to the child but not as to the signing parent. This means that the other parent can sue for the minor but the company sued can sue the signing parent for reimbursement of any amounts paid out.

For example, Assume Junior is invited to a birthday party at a Houston laser tag facility. Mom, without consulting a lawyer, signs a release and indemnity agreement so junior can play laser tag. Junior then gets injured.   The release is void as to the child but enforceable as to the mom. Dad did not sign. So Dad files a lawsuit on behalf of Junior. The release is void as to Junior and has no legal effect as on Dad.

Dad can sue as a representative of Junior and take a judgment on Junior’s behalf. However, because Mom signed an indemnity agreement, the laser tag company can now sue Mom to recover all damages they incur (the judgment, legal fees, expenses, etc) as a result of the lawsuit filed by Dad for Junior. They will probably bring her into Junior’s lawsuit on a third-party action. Thus, even though it is void against public policy for the child’s rights to be released in advance, the practical effect of the law is to make it where the child’s parent loses more than the child gains. Of course, since the parents are the legal representatives of the child,  they aren’t likely to bring the claim for the child since it will damage them more than it benefits the child. (Unless they are divorced at the time, then anything goes.)

If you have other questions about signing a pre-injury release, talk to a personal injury lawyer in Houston, Tx to learn your rights before you sign.