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Kentucky Supreme Court -- Liability Waivers for Minors are Not Enforceable by Trampoline Park

If you’ve ever taken your kids to a jump-house or indoor trampoline park, chances are you’ve seen the waiver – it’s a release of liability against the business owner for any and all claims that could arise from your child using the facility. It’s also this release of liability that gives such places the license to exist, in many cases; it’s an acknowledgement that you, as a parent, understand the risks inherent in the activity, but if you do not sign the waiver, then your child cannot participate.

In June of this year, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in Miller, as Next Friend of her Minor Child, E.M. v. House of Boom Kentucky, LLC, that pre-injury liability waivers for commercial businesses signed by a parent or guardian on behalf of a minor child are unenforceable under Kentucky law. 575 S.W.3d 656 (2019). Such a holding may impact many local businesses that operate under the assumption that these waivers are binding.

The House of Boom is a for-profit indoor trampoline park located in Louisville, and it requires participants or their legal guardians to sign waivers before they can purchase tickets. In 2015, Ms. Miller brought her 11-year old daughter, E.M., to House of Boom. She checked the box acknowledging that she read the waiver of liability, which would release all claims by Ms. Miller, her spouse, and E.M., if enforceable. Subsequently, another jumper injured E.M., causing her ankle to break.

Ms. Miller sued House of Boom on behalf of her daughter for the injury. The issue before the Kentucky Supreme Court involved “a novel issue of state law,” which is whether a parent has the authority to sign away a child’s right to compensation for an injury that occurred while participating in the activities of a for-profit company. Although a case of first impression, the Kentucky Supreme Court ultimately agreed with Ms. Miller that the answer is no.

The Court first highlighted the general common law rule that parents have no right to compromise or settle their child’s tort claim, and that parents have no inherent right to enter into contracts on their behalf absent certain circumstances.

In deciding whether public policy calls for enforcement of pre-injury release waivers, the Court considered House of Boom’s argument that parents hold a fundamental liberty interest in the care and custody of their child, but ultimately opined that “this right is not absolute” because the Commonwealth may intervene to protect children’s legal rights.

Of note, the Court was also not persuaded by House of Boom’s final public policy argument that such waivers signed by parents on their child’s behalf promotes affordable recreational activities, because unlike non-profits, for-profit businesses may “spread the cost” to its participants, purchase insurance, train employees and fix unsafe conditions to protect the minor. Otherwise, if the waiver were fully-enforceable, businesses would have little incentive to take safety precautions if they were absolved of all responsibility, right?

So where does this leave commercial businesses that rely on waivers? It’s important to note that this holding only applies to waivers signed by parents, so waivers signed by adults may still be valid and enforceable. If you own a for-profit business and require waivers for participation, be aware that waivers executed on behalf of a child are not enforceable for most claims under this new ruling.

Services may be performed by others.

This article does not constitute legal advice.

Lexington, KYLouisville, KYFrankfort, KYFrankfort, KY: MML&K Government Solutions