Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Supervised Field Trip Permission Slip

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Supervised Field Trip Permission Slip

Article excerpt

In the case of Sweeney v.. City of Bettendorf (la. 3/13/2009), the Iowa state supreme court had to determine whether "a permission slip signed by the parent of the injured girl amounted to an enforceable anticipatory release of future claims against the City." In this case, eight-year-old Tara Sweeney was injured by a flying baseball bat at a minor league game while on a field trip sponsored by the Bettendorf Parks and Recreation Department.

Facts

Eight-year-old Tara Sweeney participated in field trips to Davenport, Iowa, sponsored by the Bettendorf Parks and Recreation Department to see minor league baseball games. Prior to a field trip in 2003, Tara's mother, Cynthia Sweeney, signed the following "Permission Slip," which the Department required of all participants:

I hereby give permission for my child Tara M. Sweeney to attend the Bettendorf Park Board field trip to lohn O'Donnell Stadium with the Playgrounds Program on Monday, June 30, 2003. I realize that the Bettendorf Park Board is not responsible or liable for any accidents or injuries that may occur while on this special occasion. Failure to sign this release as is without amendment or alteration is grounds for denial of participation.

At the game, the children did not sit behind screening as they had in the past. Instead, Tara was required by the Department to sit on bleachers or the adjacent grassy area along the third base line that was unprotected by screening or netting. Tara chose a seat in the third or fourth row of bleachers. The Department supervisors did not allow the children to move to another location in the stadium.

At a midpoint in the game, a player lost his grip on a bat. The bat flew a distance of about 120 feet along the third base line at a height of approximately six feet. The bat was airborne for two or three seconds before it struck Tara on the right side of her head. Prior to being struck by the bat, Tara had turned to talk to a friend.

At the time of the incident, no supervisors from the Department were in Tara's immediate vicinity. One supervisor who viewed the incident from a distance testified that an adult in the area could possibly have done something, either trying to knock down the bat or yelling for the kids to duck. Tara's mother, however, testified at her deposition that the incident could not have been avoided had an adult been in Tara's place.

In her lawsuit, Sweeney alleged the city parks and recreation department was negligent in "not providing direct supervision for children under their care." In response, the City contended that it had not breached any applicable legal duty owed to Sweeney. The trial court agreed, finding Sweeney had not presented "sufficient evidence to establish a breach of duty owed" to her. Moreover, the trial court found that 'the permission slip constituted a valid waiver" of Sweeney's negligence claims. As a result, the trial court granted the City's motion for summary judgment, effectively dismissing Sweeney's lawsuit. Sweeney appealed to the state supreme court.

Permission Slip Waiver

On appeal, the City contended that the permission slip constituted a waiver of claims Sweeney's negligence claims. In so doing, the City noted the language in the permission slip specifically stated that a parent realizes that the "Bettendorf Park Board is not responsible or liable for any accidents or injuries that may occur while on this special occasion" and that "[f]ailure to sign this release" is "grounds for denial of participation."

In response, Sweeney contended that "the permission slip did not amount to a valid anticipatory release of future claims based upon the City's negligent acts or omissions." In addition, Sweeney claimed "public policy prevents a parent from waiving such claims on behalf of a minor child."

As characterized by the state supreme court, "[t]his case involves an exculpatory provision contained in a permission slip signed by the parent of a minor child in connection with recreational activities sponsored by a municipality. …

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