Amusement parks offer an array of fun and thrilling rides. But before you enjoy them, you will often be asked to sign a liability waiver. Should you sign it?
Because of the transitory nature of amusement park rides, extra precautions have been enacted to ensure that they are constructed correctly with each new location. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is responsible for inspecting all amusement rides in Florida, except for entities with more than 1,000 employees and full-time inspectors on staff. FDACS categorizes these amusement rides as “temporary,” whereas rides not moved from location to location, such as those at large theme parks, are considered “permanent.” FDACS requires temporary rides to acquire a permit and an inspection to occur each time they are set up in a new location. Permanent rides only require a permit once a year with semi-annual inspections. Both types of rides are required to carry insurance.
Despite the elaborate procedures to ensure safety, accidents happen. Ride operators frequently require liability waivers to shield themselves from legal repercussions in case of injuries. Those waivers may require a signature from the person riding or an adult on behalf of a minor. In other circumstances, the waiver is printed on the back of a ticket, and the terms are inherently agreed to by riding the ride. No matter where it is, liability waivers often include blanket statements that excuse the company from responsibility if there is an injury. While waivers strive to exonerate the company from any responsibility, they do not absolve them from their duty of care towards guests.
A liability waiver is a contract.
A Florida contract is enforceable as long as the terms are clear and unambiguous and the terms are legal and not against public policy. Minors under the age of 18 are considered unable to have the full capacity to understand and agree to the terms of a contract, including that of a liability waiver.
If a minor can’t sign a contract, is the waiver valid?
Florida statutes provide for many activities that parents and guardians can do on a child’s behalf. One of those activities is signing a waiver on a child’s behalf. However, the language required is specific. For a waiver or release to be enforceable, at a minimum, the waiver/release must include the following statement in uppercase type that is at least 5 points larger than and clearly distinguishable from the rest of the text of the waiver or release:
NOTICE TO THE MINOR CHILD’S NATURAL GUARDIAN
READ THIS FORM COMPLETELY AND CAREFULLY. YOU ARE AGREEING TO LET YOUR MINOR CHILD ENGAGE IN A POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS ACTIVITY. YOU ARE AGREEING THAT, EVEN IF (name of released party or parties) USES REASONABLE CARE IN PROVIDING THIS ACTIVITY, THERE IS A CHANCE YOUR CHILD MAY BE SERIOUSLY INJURED OR KILLED BY PARTICIPATING IN THIS ACTIVITY BECAUSE THERE ARE CERTAIN DANGERS INHERENT IN THE
ACTIVITY WHICH CANNOT BE AVOIDED OR ELIMINATED. BY SIGNING THIS FORM YOU ARE GIVING UP YOUR CHILD’S RIGHT AND YOUR RIGHT TO RECOVER FROM (name of released party or parties) IN A LAWSUIT FOR ANY PERSONAL INJURY, INCLUDING DEATH, TO YOUR CHILD OR ANY PROPERTY DAMAGE THAT RESULTS FROM THE RISKS THAT ARE A NATURAL PART OF THE ACTIVITY. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE TO SIGN THIS FORM, AND (name of released party or parties) HAS THE RIGHT TO REFUSE TO LET YOUR CHILD PARTICIPATE IF YOU DO NOT SIGN THIS FORM.
A waiver is not always valid.
While waivers offer a degree of protection for businesses, they cannot absolve them from their duty of care. Waivers cannot be enforced to protect a business from gross negligence or intentional misconduct. The Florida Supreme Court found that the provider of an activity does not escape liability and leaves the parent burdened with an injured child, and if the parent cannot afford the burden, the burden is shifted to the State of Florida and its residents. The public interest that is associated with these liability waivers is too great. Suppose a minor is injured while participating in an activity that is considered to be outside of the scope of the liability waiver. In that case, the minor may still be able to hold the business or organization responsible.
What if someone is injured on a ride or in a theme park?
Understanding the enforceability of liability waivers, particularly regarding minors, is crucial for both operators and patrons. Consulting with an attorney is always advisable to navigate these intricate legal issues. If you have any questions about liability waivers or the rights of minors in Florida or have been injured by a theme park attraction, you should consult with an attorney.
Authored by Marjorie Levine, Esq.