Snyder signs recreational sports liability waiver legislation

by Cynthia Price
and from statewide reports

Gov. Rick Snyder last week signed legislation allowing parents to waive their right to sue if their child is injured while playing organized sports or participating in other recreational activities.

House Bill 4231, sponsored by state Rep. John Walsh, is needed because the Michigan Court of Appeals recently ruled that current state law does not allow parents to give up the right to sue on behalf of an injured child, even if a parent signed a liability waiver.  In making the ruling, the court asked lawmakers to address the issue with legislation.

A relevant dispute involving a Kent County case, Woodman v. Kera, traveled all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Kera, LLC, which owned “Bounce Party,” had asked young Trent Woodman’s parents to sign a waiver before allowing him to play at their recreation site, so claimed they were without liability when he broke his leg. The Court of Appeals and Supreme Court ruled that, particularly due to the wording of the particular waiver, the parent was not entitled to sign away the rights of his or her child.

Interestingly, oral arguments before the Supreme Court were heard at Thomas M. Cooley law School’s Auburn Hills, involving students from Pontiac High School.

That was particularly apt since Justice (now Chief Justice) Robert Young cited a decision authored by Thomas M. Cooley in the case. Young wrote: “Indeed, in Power v. Harlow,[25] Justice THOMAS M. COOLEY made clear that a parent's authority is limited to the care and custody of his child and that a parent is without authority to waive the rights of the child. In Power, the plaintiff child was injured while playing with an explosive on the defendant's property. The defense sought to use the mother's admission that the child had been warned of the danger as an admission binding on the child... the Michigan common law rule is clear: a guardian, including a parent, cannot contractually bind his minor ward.”

However, the court suggested that legislated statute would overrule common law. HB 4231 addresses just that.

“When parents give their children permission to play organized sports, they understand that there is an inherent risk involved.  Without this protection, community organizations and coaches have no way of defending themselves from lawsuits that may results from normal activity,” the governor said.

A parent who signs a liability waiver may still sue for negligence.

H.B. 4231 is now Public Act 61 of 2011.