waivers

You want me to sign WHAT before your kid's party?

March 30, 2012 at 11:26 AM ET

Charles Taylor / featurepics.com /
Birthday Boy Inc. and its subsidiaries may not be held liable for any and all claims related to cake-candle burns, Pin the Tail on the Donkey puncture wounds, or ice-cream-related brain freeze.

Most of us aren’t shocked when we’re asked to sign a waiver before a school trip or the start of little league season.  Normal stuff kids participate in every day can result in some minor (and now and again, major) injuries, and some adults get litigious when something goes awry.

Most of these organizations are just doing what their insurance companies require: getting every parent to legally agree that they know the risks involved and won’t hold the school or the sports league responsible if their child is hurt.

But more and more parents are encountering legal forms from other parents before our kids do the most basic things, like attend a birthday party or even a good, old-fashioned play date.

In the Washington Post, a reader asked Miss Manners for her take on signing a parental waiver before her son went over to a classmate’s home. (Miss Manners wasn’t too hot on them). Melissa Livingston, a mother of two in Long Island, had a similar question for me when asked to sign a release-of-liability right on a birthday invite.

“I wanted to run it by a lawyer to know exactly what I was getting into, but now I see them all the time,” she explained.    

So should you agree to a waiver?

Well, if a family is throwing a birthday party at an activity center or renting a bouncy house, for example, the “hold harmless” form is usually company policy and it’s not up to the parents who invited you. You should know that states vary on how enforceable these waivers actually are, but there’s always the possibility that you wouldn’t be able to recover for any of the injuries if something went wrong.

But if you aren’t comfortable signing one, you should anticipate the situation before your child arrives at the party and is put on the spot in front of everyone else.  Since most kid gyms require some sort of release, you can simply call the location ahead of time to ask about it, and decline the invitation, if that’s a deal-breaker for you. 

Of course, when a mom presents a waiver before your toddler can enter her living room, that’s another story.  Many people find the behavior rude and unfriendly— turning a pleasant, neighborly interaction into a formal legal relationship.

In this case, try to explain your position to the host — that you understand kids will be kids, and that you’re not big on the whole waiver idea for personal interactions. You can also see whether there’s a specific safety concern, like having another child in their pool, and if so, assure her that you guys are prepared to stay on dry land for the afternoon. If she’s still not satisfied? Maybe sign it this once, and hang out with another mom in the future.

Have you ever been asked to sign a waiver for a birthday party or play date? Would you?  

Jacoba Urist is a lawyer, mom and family finance writer who will NOT require you to sign a waiver before entering her living room. Her writing appears on the Huffington Post and MSN Money. Jacoba received her JD and her LL.M. Masters in Taxation from NYU School of Law. Follow her on twitter @TheHappiestPare

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