Chlouber corrects waivers issue for skiing, working |

Chlouber corrects waivers issue for skiing, working

Guest commentary/State Sen. Ken Chlouber

Some 736 bills were introduced in the 2003 Colorado legislative session, of which 449 became law. While the media concentrate on a handful of major issues, hundreds of important bills get overlooked by the press – not intentionally, but necessarily – and consequently from public attention.

One of the important bills escaping attention was Senate Bill 253, which I introduced at the request of Kevin Rich, a cowboy and a friend who lives near Eaton.

The important thing to note here is that, had it not been for Mr. Rich, this issue would not have been before the Legislature, and every business, organization or institution that requires parents to sign waivers for their children would have had a huge problem.

In June 2002, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that parental signatures waiving liability of a child are not legally binding.

In other words, if a parent signs a waiver for a child, the Supreme Court ruled that the signature is inconsequential and the company holds all liability for that child. The decision came from a 1995 incident when a 17-year-old boy suffered injuries, including blindness, when he crashed into a tree at Aspen Highlands while training on a ski race course.

Both the child and the mother signed a release of liability prior to the accident.

The child and his mother sued both the Aspen Valley Ski Club Inc. and the child’s coach. The Supreme Court ruled that, “It holds that the public policy of Colorado affords minors significant protections that preclude a parent or guardian from releasing a minor’s own prospective claims for negligence.”

This ruling was problematic for many companies and owners, including Mr. Rich, a rodeo stock contractor who teaches bull-riding and other rodeo events.

Because he could not receive a legal liability waiver, the threat of lawsuits stemming from any injury would have forced him to shut down his operation. I can only imagine the same threat forced second thoughts for many similar business owners – summer camps, ski schools, recreational sports organizers and those promoting other inherently dangerous activities.

The Supreme Court also wrote, “However, we note that this question is a matter of legislative prerogative, and, of course, the General Assembly could choose to address it differently.”

At Mr. Rich’s request, I did, in fact, choose to see it differently.

I do not want to minimize the skiing accident mentioned previously, as it was an unfortunate incident – no doubt about it.

But there are too many companies, nonprofit and volunteer organizations that could not continue their services without a parental liability waiver being recognized by the state.

In the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Lynn Settje, representing the Greeley Stampede, said rodeo events for children would have to be canceled if the bill did not pass.

A spokesperson for the Colorado Farm Bureau, the Colorado Association of Nonprofit Organizations, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Associations and the Colorado Horse Council testified that without the bill, certain activities sponsored by these organizations would be curtailed.

The list of supporters continued, including the Colorado River Outfitters Association and the Colorado Parks and Recreation Districts. There was only one dissenter – a lawyer.

While my bill does allow for a parent to release or waive liabilities on behalf of a child, it does not waive a child’s prospective claim against a person or entity for a willful and wanton act or omission.

The bill is simply a good idea. It enforces something that we’ve all accepted as law in the past, and it makes no unnecessary changes.

While this bill does not strip all responsibility from an event organizer or a company, it does recognize the inherent dangers that exist with any form of recreation.

While the high-dollar interest groups jumped on Kevin Rich’s bandwagon once the bill was in the process, it is almost shocking that they didn’t initiate the legislation, as they stand to gain the most from the bill’s passage.

Regardless, I was able to push the bill through the Legislature with little trouble. The bill passed the Senate on a 34-1 vote, and it passed the House 55-6 (with four excused). The governor signed the bill May 14, making it law immediately.

While perhaps not a sexy topic like gun control, water storage or school vouchers, this bill more clearly epitomizes a legislator’s routine activities during the 120-day session.

We listen to our constituents and act on their recommendations, especially when the request is based on common-sense policies for all Coloradans.

And while the interest groups helped the bill in its journey through the legislature, I suggest they owe a debt of gratitude to Kevin Rich, the northern Colorado cowboy who made this bill possible.

State Sen. Ken Chlouber, R-Leadville, represents Senate District 4, which includes Lake, Douglas, Teller, El Paso and Park counties. Chlouber serves as the Senate President Pro Tem and serves on the Senate Agriculture, Transportation and Appropriations Committees.

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