University of Vermont AAHS

A Release for Minors

by Jan Dawson

[reproduced from Winter 2003 Caution:Horses, Volume 8, No. 3]  


Changing the signature lines on a stable's release form may render the form enforceable with respect to a minor. Many jurisdictions will not allow the parents to waive the rights of a minor for recreational activities. Many states that do, prefer to have the signature of both parents or the actual legal guardian on the release form. It is not always possible to have both parents sign a release. While the person taking the minor to the riding activity or show may have the permission of the parent or guardian, it often is not the parent or legal guardian who  is accompanying the minor. Another issue arises if the parents are divorced because the parent taking the minor to the activity may not be the custodial parent who has the right to sign. Put another way, the parent who has the child for the weekend, month or summer may not have the legal right to sign medical forms or releases alone according to the terms of the divorce decree. This parent may be able to act as agent for the other parent in these areas for this limited time and purpose without having the expense of altering the decree.

A judge in a recent Maryland case allowed the father's signature to waive all claims of both parents saying he was signing as "agent of the parental unit." While this still allowed the claims of the child, those of the parents were extinguished. This did relieve some substantial economic pressure to the defending stable.

By using this theory on the signature lines of a release form it is possible to allow the person taking the minor to the riding activity to sign as "agents for parent(s) or guardian(s)." This gives the stable a degree of security that it otherwise would not have because one is entitled to rely on a representation of agency but not on a representation of guardianship.

If the person who brings the minor to the activity represents him/herself to be the guardian (for example, Grandma) and is not the guardian, the stable is still liable because the person who signed the release did not have the capacity to do so. This is not so if . the stable has relied on a representation of agency as long as the person has permission to take the child to the activity in place of the parent.

If Grandma signs as "agent for the parents," the stable has a right to rely on this representation of agency. It could not have simply relied on her being "Grandma" because being "Grandma" does not allow her to act for the parents. Being "agent for the parents" does. The next-door neighbor can also be this agent. All they need is permission to take the kids riding or to the show or whatever and the stable has the right to rely on this representation.

 The bad news is that all accidents involving minors may generate three potential suits: one by Mom, one by Dad, and one by or for the child himself. This agency signature only extinguishes the first two and will not extinguish the suit for the benefit of the child. This means that partial damages are still there in the form of actual medical expenses, future wages if applicable, and punitive damages if the behavior causing the accident was bad enough. What are gone are the parents' expenses and costs such as lost services by the child, value of his companionship or any costs that are attributable to damages born solely by the parents and not the minor victim. Some jurisdictions do allow the parents to extinguish the possibility of negligence suits by and for the minor child but by no means all of them do. Where this is allowed an agent's signature may prove helpful.

While this may seem a novel approach to a release form it is occasionally seen as a judicial solution to a common problem where only one parent signed the form. Providing lines for the "Parental Agent" is better than relying on a single parent, a friend or a relative and then finding out later that the person who signed the release lacked the capacity to sign. From that there is no reprieve.

What does the stable or other entity have to do to make use of this? It needs only to change the signature lines on the release forms. An attorney who specializes in personal injury law in the state in which the release is to be used should check all releases.

An example appears below:

Signature of Rider (even if he is a minor)
Signature of Parent/Agent for the Parental Unit/Legal Guardian
Signature of Second Parent
Signature of Agent for Parent(s) or Guardian

As additional protection the Agent should be asked to copy the following statement in the space provided and sign and date it.
"I am authorized by the Parents of (Jane Doe) to sign this release of liability. My relationship to the parents is ."
(The relationship can be Grandma, neighbor, friend or cousin. It doesn't matter.)


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