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Can a Parent Waive a Child’s Right to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

When  your child wants to play on a school sports team and school officials ask you to sign a waiver of liability, should your child be hurt, even if it’s a result of the school’s negligence? Are such releases valid? Can they be legally enforced to prevent your child from filing a lawsuit for any type of injury, even if it’s a result of the school’s carelessness?

The answer varies from state, but Pennsylvania and New Jersey law are quite clear on the subject—a minor child generally cannot waive a right to sue and cannot have his or her right to sue waived by a parent.

Different organizations take different approaches to obtaining a waiver of liability (release and waiver are essentially interchangeable terms here). Some require the child and the parent to sign the waiver, but others only require the parent to sign. In both contexts, though, Pennsylvania and New Jersey apply long-accepted principles of contract law.

Where only the parent has signed the waiver, the parent’s right to sue may actually be waived. This waiver means that parents may not recover for medical expenses paid by them or any out of pocket expenses incurred.  However, since only the parent has signed the waiver, that does not preclude the child from suing for negligence or carelessness and recovering other damages, like pain and suffering.

In a situation where both the parent and the child sign the waiver, the child’s agreement to release or waive liability is generally not valid. One of the requirements of a valid contract is that the person entering into the contract must have the legal capacity to do so…i.e., the person must understand that he or she is entering into a contract, and must understand what that means. Someone who is mentally ill or under the influence of drugs or alcohol may lack the capacity to understand the nature of a transaction. The same principle applies to someone who is under the age of 18.  Anyone under the age of 18 cannot enter into a contract unless it is for a necessity or they have been emancipated. Any contract signed by a minor is “voidable’ which means that the  minor may choose to “disaffirm” or void a contract entered into before reaching the age of 18.

Contact Fritz, Goldenberg & Bianculli

At the law firm of Fritz, Goldenberg & Bianculli, we have more than 30 years of combined experience successfully protecting the rights of personal injury victims in the greater Philadelphia area. We have recovered nearly $200 million in settlements and verdicts in cases that other law firms initially turned down.

To set up a free initial consultation, call our office at 215-458-2222 or send us an e-mail. Evening and weekend meetings can be arranged, if necessary. We will come to your home or the hospital for an appointment.