Many churches and nonprofits have had to cancel their summer activities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The good news is that the pandemic will not last forever and, in light of fast-moving breakthroughs in the development of a vaccine, the end of the pandemic may be in sight. If that is the case, one should expect 2021 to be a year full of activities such as camps, concerts, and all sorts of trips. Accordingly, churches and nonprofits should prepare now. One way to do this is to review, or create, your organization’s parental consent and waiver forms. Every outing conducted by a church or nonprofit should be accompanied by parental consent and waivers. For adult participants a waiver suffices but for minor children, parental consents are a must. The following recommendations apply equally to both types of forms.
First, the parental consent or waiver form should be easy to read and understandable. There is no reason why such forms should have small fonts or filled with “legalese” such that the average person cannot read or decipher the content of the form. A common line of attack by those seeking to invalidate such agreements is that they were too difficult to read or that the person signing could not understand what the form said. This can easily be avoided by drafting easy to read to forms in plain English.
Second, the forms should be detailed and provide the reader sufficient information to make a fully informed decision. The form should specify the type of event or activity, the dates involved, the mode of transportation, and the estimated times of departure and arrival. In addition to that basic information, the forms should clearly list the type of activities that are expected to occur. For example, if swimming in a pool or lake or zip lining in a forest are activities which participants will engage in, they should be disclosed in the form. A form that seeks to waive liability generally is not effective because a parent or participant can later say that they were not fully informed about the specific type of risk that caused them harm.
Third, the forms should provide a place for participants to disclose certain information that would inform leaders of things of which to be aware. This might include a list of allergies, medications, or injuries which, if undisclosed, may result in harm. Once these items are disclosed, leaders should take careful note and make the necessary precautions to avoid any injury.
Fourth, the participant should be asked to affirm that he, or his parent, are in agreement with the terms provided in the form and that the participant is physically fit to engage in the activities disclosed in the form. In addition, the participant should consent to medical treatment in the event of an emergency.
Additional other steps can be taken to increase the effectiveness of these types of forms depending on the specific situation at hand. It is not advisable to use a standard form from the internet; rather, each form should be tailored to the specific activity. It should further be noted that a parental consent or waiver form does not shield a church or nonprofit from any and all liability. Such forms, for example, generally do not protect against gross negligence or recklessness. Moreover, some courts have held that an injured minor can bring a suit for his injuries upon becoming an adult. In addition to utilizing well drafted forms, churches and nonprofits should ensure that they have, at all times, adequate insurance coverage. If your church or nonprofit has questions about reducing liability in this area, contact the attorneys at Dalton & Tomich, PLC.