Outfitters can be sued for minors’ injuries | SummitDaily.com
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Outfitters can be sued for minors’ injuries

Amanda Roberson

DENVER – A Colorado Supreme Court ruling concerning liability waivers for ski resorts also holds water for rafting companies. Waivers signed by parents do not prevent them from suing if their children are injured due to negligence.

The decision does not change legal matters for rafting, or any recreational activity for that matter, said Peter Rietz, an attorney for the U.S. Ski Association. Waivers have never prevented minors or their parents from suing in the event of negligence.

“This has been the state of the law for years,” Rietz said. “The Supreme Court has simply said waivers are not enforceable because minors can disavow contracts until age 18, and parents cannot legally bind children.”

The precedent-setting case involved a 1995 accident on an Aspen ski race course in which David Cooper, then 17, lost control and crashed into a tree while training. He was blinded in the accident.

Prior to his training on the course, Both Cooper and his mother signed a waiver to not seek damages in the event of an accident. But Cooper, who had been a member of the Aspen Valley Ski Club for nine years, filed a lawsuit against the Aspen Skiing Co., the Aspen Valley Ski Club and the U.S. Ski Association claiming negligence.

The state Supreme Court ruled June 24 the waiver does not prevent Cooper from suing and ordered the case returned to state district court for trial. Essentially, the court said parents cannot waive their children’s rights. And Cooper, because he was a minor, could not waive those rights for himself, the court ruled.

This high court decision overturned a previous court ruling that Cooper could not sue because the waiver stated the club was not liable for injuries caused by negligence. A lower court also had upheld the ruling.

Although waivers signed by parents have no legal bearing, they still are useful from a “notice” standpoint, said Reitz.

“You sign releases to go to a gym these days, and for just about anything that involves risk of injury,” said Reitz. “There are myriad ways you can be injured, and waivers make parents take notice of these risks.”

Waivers also can be used by the defense in the event of a lawsuit, said Reitz. A defense attorney could present a copy of the signed waiver to show parents were aware of the risks involved.

But Ron Bailey, owner of Adventure Specialist Rafting in Frisco, said the decision hurts the rafting industry, which “was having a bad season anyway.”

Bailey said he thought waivers signed by parents would protect him from a lawsuit if a child got injured. He was surprised when the court ruled this wasn’t the case.

The waivers his company uses include a section releasing the company from liability. Parents of children under age 18 sign that they “shall legally bind” their children to the waiver.

Bailey plans to meet with an attorney to review and rewrite the waiver.

“This is a big problem. I don’t know how I can correct the waiver to protect myself,” said Bailey. “We (those in the recreation business) should try to overturn the decision.”

Bailey said the ruling also affects his snowmobile company, Avalanche Tours, because 15- and 16-year-old kids sometimes drive the snowmobiles.sue because the waiver stated the club was not liable for injuries caused by negligence. A lower court also had upheld the ruling.

Although waivers signed by parents have no legal bearing, they still are useful from a “notice” standpoint, Rietz said.

“You sign releases to go to a gym these days, and for just about anything that involves risk of injury,” Rietz said. “There are myriad ways you can be injured, and waivers make parents take notice of

these risks.”

The defense can also use waivers in the event of a lawsuit, Rietz said. A defense attorney could present a copy of the signed waiver to show parents were aware of the risks involved.

But Ron Bailey, owner of Adventure Specialist Rafting in Frisco, said the decision hurts the rafting industry, which “was having a bad season anyway.”

Bailey said he thought waivers signed by parents would protect him from a lawsuit if a child got injured. He was surprised when the court ruled this wasn’t the case.

The waivers his company uses include a section releasing the company from liability. Parents of children under age 18 sign that they “shall legally bind” their children to the waiver.

Bailey plans to meet with an attorney to review and rewrite the waiver.

“This is a big problem. I don’t know how I can correct the waiver to protect myself,” Bailey said. “We (those in the recreation business) should try to overturn the decision.”

Bailey said the ruling also affects his snowmobile company, Avalanche Tours, because 15- and 16-year-olds sometimes drive the snowmobiles.


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