Each year at this time, our ministry receives calls about liability for taking children to pumpkin patches, dairy farms, and other field trips. Is there a document that a church or school may have a parent sign whereby they will be released from all liability which arises in their ministry? NO!
Any waiver document signed by a parent is better than none at all, but there is no document that will guarantee the church will never be sued, or, if sued, will never be held liable for injuries to a child.
It is legally impossible for a church to obtain a general liability release from parents of the children attending church-related events that will release the church from all liability for every event for all time.
Courts will generally look at each injury on a case-by-case basis to determine if the parent knowingly released the church from liability for the type of injury which actually occurred.
If several suggestions are followed, liability release forms may be invaluable in avoiding a lawsuit or in demonstrating to a jury that the parents were aware of and agreed to the risks that resulted in the injury. Some of the following suggestions will be helpful to the church which uses waiver forms if it is ever sued for injury to a child in its care:
- Specifically tailor the waiver form to the planned event.
- Name the specific event and the date on which it is to occur.
- Do not allow people to participate in the event without a written release.
- List all activities which may occur at the event.
- Do not allow activities to take place if the activity is not covered in the release.
- Give the parent an opportunity to refuse to let his child participate in an event without incurring a penalty.
- Give notice on the waiver that it is intended to be a legally binding document.
- Be certain that the person signing the release has the legal capacity to release liability for the child.
While liability release forms are no guarantee that a church will never be sued, or if sued, that they will successfully defend the suit, they can be a great value in proving parts of the case. A church should use them, especially with activities involving young people.