Richard Hammar, noted attorney and largely considered the expert in church…
Summer time is almost here! Hand in hand with that, comes Summer youth activities such as camp, offsite trips and countless activities that youth groups go and do. Many churches use “release forms” in order to avoid liability for injuries or even death occurring in the course of trips and activities. Such forms have an important role, but the general release forms we have become accustomed to may no longer be appropriate. An appropriate release form should have several key components which is why we strongly suggest legal review and preparation of such forms. With the courts often looking with disfavor on release forms, let’s examine several things you need to know.
Release Forms – Need To Know!
- Release forms will be strictly and narrowly viewed against the church.
- The courts are more likely to enforce a customized release or assumption of risk form than a generic form found on the internet. Ideally, the form should be drafted, or at least reviewed, by legal counsel.
- Release forms will not be enforced if they are ambiguous.
- Release forms will not be enforced if the person signing the form is not informed (by the language of the form) as to the specific risk that is being released. Activities giving risk to injuries must be specifically described along with a listing of the possible injuries.
- Churches should not allow a minor child to participate in any church activity (such as camping, boating, swimming, hiking, or some sporting events) unless the child’s parents or legal guardians sign a “parental consent form” that: (a) consents to their child participating in the specified activity; (b) certifies that the child is able to participate in the event (e.g., if the activity involves boating or swimming, the parents or guardians should certify that the child is able to swim); (c) lists any allergies or medical conditions that may be relevant to a physician in the event of an emergency; (d) lists any activities that the parents or guardians do not want the child to engage in; and (e) authorizes a designated individual to make emergency medical decisions for their child in the event parents or guardians cannot be reached.
Ideally, a parental consent form should be signed by both parents or guardians (if there are two), and the signatures should be notarized. If only one parent or guardian signs, or the signatures are not notarized, the legal effectiveness of the form is diminished. Having persons sign as witnesses to a parent’s signature is not as good as a notary’s acknowledgment, but it is better than a signature without a witness. The form should require the parent or guardian to inform the church immediately of any change in the information presented, and it should state that it is valid until revoked by the person who signed it.
As another consideration, you may also want to build a “Photo Use Agreement” into your release form. This allows the parents or legal guardians to express their consent or lack thereof in the use of their child’s photos often taken at these summer time events.
Did I just hear a big sigh of frustration?! I know – it’s probably more than you were thinking and there may not be such a thing as a perfectly construed release form, but the chances of yours being enforceable increase with the implementation of the suggestions noted above.
The tips in this article are not intended to cover all aspects of an effective release form and again, we strongly suggest consultation with a legal professional, perhaps one versed in nonprofits. We can provide recommendations upon request.