Many schools and even local after-school programs have been sending release forms home with children for years. The release forms were mandatory for a child to participate in a specific activity and essentially was a promise that the parent would not sue if the child suffered a personal injury as a result of the activity. The forms made it easier for insurance companies and gave activity planners some peace of mind.
The rules have now changed, after the Florida Supreme Court decided that such release forms are not valid for commercial activities such as ATV courses, go-carts and similar activities. Florida businesses can now be sued if any injuries to minors and children take place on the premises. Business will now have to improve their liability insurance or stop accepting children as patrons. Non-profit activities related to church groups, Scouts, school groups and other similar activities will not be affected by the ruling.
Some legal experts note that the new ruling does open up the possibility of lawsuits even in the case of non-profits, however, since commercial and non-profit activities are often combined for school aged children. For example, church groups or schools may want to take children to Disney World, a non-profit group may transport children via charter bus. Some attorneys predict that in these cases, lawsuits may result after the new ruling.
Attorney Bard Rockenbach, who was involved in the Florida Supreme Court that returned the ruling says that businesses should be able to run their businesses safely. He believes that the possibility of lawsuits will ensure that all Florida businesses do everything possible to make their businesses safe.
The Florida Supreme Court case of Kirton vs. Fields was the result of a fatal all-terrain vehicle ride. In 2003, a father allowed his child to take a ride on an all-terrain vehicle at a motorsport park. He signed waiver promising not to sue. The child was killed during a jump when the ATV landed on top of him. The family sued the park and a trial court sided with the motorsport park because of the waiver the father had signed. An appeals court had reversed the ruling before the case was heard before the Supreme Court.