No More Waivers, Releases Or Consents

Whenever I have presented this information to audiences, some have commented that using these participation agreements seems like overkill and can scare people off. But I would rather have someone walk away knowing that the risks have been fully explained and has decided that those risks are not worth it, than have an uninformed individual get hurt and sue because no one told him or her of the serious potential for injury.

Someone who walks away from a service, program or activity will not sue you for negligence!In seeking signatures for multiple activities, greater creativity may be necessary to get more than one agreement into the intake process, but that time will be well-spent compared to lawsuits and the consequences of an agency’s ability to continue to provide services.

Identifying Information

A sample participation document, in keeping with the legal points from the Hanks ruling, has several key areas:

· Characteristics of the activity or service with a full explanation of the inherent risks

· Full disclosure of the injury risks that can and do occur

· Disclosure of the hazards involved in the facilities, areas and/or playgrounds

· The likelihood of such injuries

· Statement of the rules of participation and participant obligations in safety, and reporting of conditions that may affect the safety of the activity

· Voluntary signatory section and date information.

Of course, these are simply starting points. Great care and consideration should be given to additional areas of information, and the tone of the document is important so as to assure that it is voluntary, not coercive, that it is signed by a parent or guardian with clear legal standing or an adult on his or her behalf. Important in any such undertaking is to use your own legal counsel in developing such participation agreements.

Safe Or Sorry

The “secret” to risk assessment and risk management is to be assertive, proactive and aggressive in pursuit of protection of the agency and its participants. Anything short of this approach leaves an agency vulnerable. Reducing risk is possible; removing risk altogether is not.

As a sad consequence of the aforementioned Powder Ridge case, the facility is now closed. The “winner” in the case has permanent damage to his leg that will require lifelong care, and his disability is permanent. What might be the effects of such litigation in your agency’s history? Wouldn’t you rather be safe than sorry?

Joseph A. Panza, Ed.D., is an Associate Professor for the Recreation & Leisure Studies Department at Southern Connecticut State University. He can be reached via e-mail at panzaj1@southernct.edu.

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