Family Law

Can a Parent Waive Their Child’s Right to Sue?

Most people are aware of the fact that they may not be able to sue for a personal injury if they sign away their rights on a waiver. This often occurs if an adult is getting a tattoo or taking part in an inherently risky activity such as skydiving. The law becomes grayer in this area when it comes to minors. Minors cannot enter a legally binding contract in most instances, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a parent can sign a contractual waiver on behalf of their children. The law is extremely complicated in this instance, so it is all the more important that parents understand exactly how these laws affect them and their children. 

Can a Parent Waive Their Child’s Right to Sue?

The answer as to whether or not a parent can waive their child’s right to sue is a resounding ‘no’ in some instances and a reluctant ‘yes’ in others. Our injury lawyer New York firm indicates that most states uphold a minor’s right to seek damages in personal injury situations and will not consider waivers signed by parents as a relinquishment of these rights.

There was a recent case in New Jersey where a twelve-year-old boy’s parents signed a waiver releasing a skate park from liability if the boy was injured. The minor was subsequently injured and had to undergo two surgeries, but the courts found that the boy could still file suit since his parents didn’t have legal grounding to sign away his rights. This does not mean, however, that a parent never has legal grounding to sign away this right.

Several courts throughout the country have recognized certain exceptions in relation to the signing of waivers. These exceptions usually relate to schools, community based organizations and non-profit organizations. These community programs often have minimal resources and would likely not be able to continue functioning if they frequently faced personal injury lawsuits. Since these programs are deemed necessary for a community’s enrichment, they are a common exemption to rules regarding waivers and minors. Parents also have the right to sign waivers when it comes to their child’s medical care for the same reason.

What Happens If a Parent Waives Their Child’s Rights?

In instances where parents can legally sign away their child’s rights, such as within community organizations, the child or parent will have no recourse for legal compensation. A Florida appeals court, for instance, found that a mother who had signed a waiver had no grounds to sue her son’s school after he was injured participating in a school sponsored fire rescue program. The court concluded that this school activity fell under a common exception which allows parents to sign away their child’s right to litigation.

When a parent signs a waiver that isn’t related to one of the aforementioned community organizations, the waiver is virtually void when it comes to a minor’s litigation rights. Several companies, however, have recently smartened up and included an ‘arbitration clause’ within their waivers. These arbitration clauses mean that even if the parent cannot legally sign away their child’s rights to recovery, a company can require that the matter be handled through methods other than court litigation if specified in their waiver. The New Jersey court that heard the aforementioned skate park dispute found that an arbitration clause did not violate the minor’s right to file a claim; it simply provided an alternative forum.

Whether or not a parent has legal standing to sign away a minor’s right to seek damages for a personal injury is one of the most complex areas of contractual law. It becomes obvious that there are certain situations, such as in a school setting, where these releases are necessary to allow an educational institution to create a hands-on learning environment without facing legal recourse. In most cases, however, parents don’t have the legal right to sign away their child’s right to recompense, so many waivers signed by parents have minimal effect in the real world.

Author Georgina Clatworthy is a former legal blog editor and contributes this post for The Perecman Firm, an injury lawyer New York group which provides experienced legal counsel for those dealing with personal injuries.  They understand the pain and distress injury cases involving children can bring and work with their clients to ensure their rights are protected.


Was Your Child Attacked by the Neighbor’s Dog? (Guest post)

(US law and generally0 Dogs have always been referred to as “man’s best friend”, and this saying usually holds true. Unfortunately, they are still animals and at times may attack a person. A dog bite can be a very serious injury, and sadly, the majority of these attacks happen to children. Any parent whose child is attacked by a dog needs to take action immediately. Most dog attacks are not fatal, but it is still imperative to handle the situation correctly. Once a parent knows their child is safe, they should take steps to make sure the dog’s owner is held liable for the damage their dog caused.

Take Care of the Child

The utmost important thing for a parent to do after a dog attacks their child is get immediate medical help. Even if the dog bite doesn’t seem that serious, there is a great chance of infection and possibly even rabies. The dog should also be reported to law enforcement and animal control services. In South Carolina, a dog that bites a person is required to be quarantined for ten days at a veterinary clinic. During these days, the dog will be monitored for rabies. This will give everyone an idea of whether or not a child needs to be given a rabies vaccination.

Collect Information

Any time a child is bitten by a dog the parent should do their best to gather as much information as possible. The first thing to find out is where the dog lives and who its owner is. It is strongly recommend that pictures be taken of the injury as well as any torn clothing. This will be very important if the necessity arises to get reimbursement for medical bills from the owner. A dog owner can sometimes even be held criminally liable if serious injury occurs, so these pictures may also help law enforcement. A parent should also get the names and contact information of anyone who witnessed the incident.

Contact a Lawyer

Contacting a lawyer is very important, even if a child’s injuries are not life-threatening. South Carolina attorneys Howell & Christmas point out that the state has a strict liability stance on owners whose dogs bite other people. This means that if a person is in a public area or lawfully on private property and is attacked by a dog, the dog’s owner is liable for the injuries, even if it occurred in their own yard. This does not apply if someone is bitten due to breaking the law or provoking a dog. It is also important to remember that a child can suffer future serious psychological issues related to dogs due to this attack. If a parent waits until these issues become apparent, they may not be able to sue for any counseling bills their child may require. This is because the statute of limitations on these cases is only three years. Contacting a professional attorney quickly will ensure a parent can cover their child’s medical bills, any lost income due to having to care for their child’s injuries, and any future medical bills that may arise from the attack.

Any owner whose dog attacks a person is liable for that attack in most states. Even if a child’s injuries are minimal, a parent should still contact an attorney. No parent should have to pay a doctor bill that was caused by another person’s negligence. Taking action against a careless dog owner is also usually the only way that the owner will start taking their dog owner responsibility more seriously. In the end, having a competent attorney will ensure that a person doesn’t have to pay for injuries caused by another person’s disregard, and handling the issue correctly may ensure that other children don’t become victims of that particular dog.

Katie Hewatt is a legal researcher and contributing author for the legal team of Howell & Christmas. This group of personal injury lawyers also specialize in dog bite cases. They take each case seriously, no matter how severe the injury is, and will help you receive the compensation you deserve for pain, medical bills, emotional stress, and scarring.