Title Do Field Trip Permission Forms Waive Liability for Schools?
Author/s ACSI
Preview This article reviews a case concerning parental challenge of a general liability waiver after their child was injured. Analyzes what the court found relevant concerning the waiver and how it ruled.

Do Field Trip Permission Forms Waive Liability for Schools?

"In July of 2005, fourteen-year-old Taneia Galloway attended a field trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with Upward Bound, a youth outreach program that was organized by the University of Northern Iowa and the State of Iowa." Before the student attended the trip, her mother signed two documents titled Field Trip Permission Form and Release and Medical Authorization. The Field Trip Permission Form stated in part,

Furthermore, I will not hold the University of Northern Iowa or any of its employees or agents responsible for any accidents, losses, damages or injuries resulting from the son/daughter's participation in any or all the field trips. I also release the Classic Upward Bound Program, the University of Northern Iowa, and its employees and agents from all liabilities.

The Release and Medical Authorization form stated,

In consideration of the University of Northern Iowa granting the student permission to participate in the Classic Upward Bound Program, I hereby assume all risks of her/his injury (including death) that may result from any program activity. As parent/guardian I do hereby release and agree to indemnify, defend and hold harmless the University of Northern Iowa, State Board of Regents, State of Iowa, Classic Upward Bound and its officers, employees, agents and all participants in the program from and against all liability including claims and suits of law or in equity for injury (fatal or otherwise) which may result from any negligence and/or the student taking part in program activities.

These are typical statements in all school field-trip or medical-release forms. While on the field trip, "Galloway was injured when she was struck by a car as she attempted to cross the street." She suffered knee and other injuries.

Galloway's mother, as Taneia's "next friend," sued the University of Northern Iowa, the Classic Upward Bound Program, and the state of Iowa. "The State moved for summary judgment, contending the releases signed by Galloway's mother waived any claims against it for negligence. The district court concluded the releases constituted a valid waiver of Galloway's claims and granted summary judgment," thus dismissing the lawsuit.

The mother appealed to the Iowa supreme court. Was liability waived when the mother signed the forms?

You be the judge!

Galloway v. State of Iowa, 08-0776, November 2010
In the appeal, Taneia Galloway, now 19 years old, argued that the court should conclude that the releases signed by her mother are "void and unenforceable." She asserted that the court should follow a majority of other state courts that have concluded that it is against public policy for parents to waive liability for their child's injury before it occurs.

Galloway's main argument was that public policy considerations should lead the court to conclude that "preinjury releases executed by parents as a condition of their children's participation in educational activities are incompatible with public policy and therefore unenforceable." She particularly contended that "public policy should preclude enforcement of releases executed by parents because parents are ill-equipped to assess in advance the nature of risks of injury faced by children while they are participating in activities at remote locations under the supervision of others and because parents are uninformed of the nature and extent of the gravity of the injuries to which their children may be exposed when the releases are executed."

The state argued that public policy weighed in favor of "enforcing preinjury releases signed by parents." It contended that all the arguments supporting the enforcement of preinjury releases executed by adults who waive liability for their own injuries "apply with equal force to releases given by parents on behalf of their minor children." Finally, it contended that the public policy of Iowa requires courts to "give deference to parents' child-rearing choices, including the choice to release third parties in advance for negligent injury to children."

Reviewing the case, the Supreme Court of Iowa looked at issues of public policy and agreed that public policy does govern other areas of child protection such as finance and property.

The court stated the following:

These limitations on parents' authority to make legally enforceable transac­tions affecting the property and finan­cial interests of their minor children are derived from a well-established public policy that children must be ac­corded a measure of protection against improvident decisions of their parents. We conclude the same public policy demands minor children be protected from forfeiture of their personal injury claims by parents' execution of prein­jury releases. By signing a preinjury waiver, a parent purports to agree in advance to bear the financial burden of providing for her child in the event the child is injured by a tortfeasor's negligence. Sometimes parents are not willing or able to perform such commitments after an injury occurs. If parents fail to provide for the needs of their injured children, and the pre­injury waiver in favor of the tortfeasor is enforced, financial demands may be made on the public fisc to cover the cost of care.

The court went on to say,

We conclude for all of these reasons that the public policy protecting children from improvident actions of parents in other contexts precludes the enforcement of preinjury releases executed by parents for their minor children. Like a clear majority of other courts deciding such releases are unenforceable, we believe the strong policy in favor of protecting children must trump any competing interest of parents and tortfeasors in their freedom to contractually nullify a minor child's personal injury claim before an injury occurs.

Another argument of the state was that an unenforceable ruling would compromise the opportunities for children to participate in field trips and other educational and recreational opportunities. To that argument, the court responded,

We find no reason to believe opportunities for recreational, cultural, and educational activities for youths have been significantly compromised in the many jurisdictions following the majority rule. In the final analysis, we conclude the strong public policy favoring the protection of children's legal rights must prevail over speculative fears about their continuing access to activities.

In the conclusion, the court said,

We conclude preinjury releases executed by parents purporting to waive the personal injury claims of their minor children violate public policy and are therefore unenforceable.

The Iowa Supreme Court sent the case back to the district court for trial.

What Can We Learn from This Case?

This particular case pertains to Iowa; however, there are several states that have ruled that waivers of liability parents sign for minor children are unenforceable. Does this mean that ACSI schools should not have parents sign field-trip permission forms or medical-release forms? The answer is no! Schools should continue to have parents sign the forms, but schools still have a liability issue when dealing with the protection of children. In this case the children were exiting a bus in the rain and were being asked to cross a busy street, without direct supervision. It is incumbent on schools to diligently supervise children and seek to protect children from injury. Teachers should always be looking for potential dangers for the children that are in their care. Schools should provide educational and recreational opportunities for children but should be mindful of potential risks, guarding against those risks. Be sure to remind your volunteers of the serious responsibility of protecting children from harm during field trips.

Notice: These articles are designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. They have been provided to member schools with the understanding that ACSI is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. Laws vary by jurisdiction and the specific application of laws to particular facts requires the advice of an attorney.

LLU 21.2

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