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Run No Risks with Kids!

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, approximately 3.5 million children and adolescents, ages 14 and under, are injured each year while participating in sports or other recreational activities. Although most of these incidents don’t occur in clubs, it’s important that owners and operators be aware of the safety and legal regulations that apply to this population. 

To help you understand the risks associated with serving children, IHRSA has updated its briefing paper resources. Its Kids in Your Club guide outlines the requirements that, if adhered to, will help ensure that clubs can provide safe, effective, and entertaining programs and activities for youth.

Two of the key factors that need to be considered are supervision and the role of waivers.

The kind and amount of supervision provided should be predicated on a simple criterion: What’s necessary to prevent a child from being hurt? Make sure you adequately train any employees who will be working with kids in your facility. Identify areas or situations that could conceivably prove hazardous, and childproof them via education, signage, etc. An obvious example is the danger children court when running around a pool.

You should also consider creating a written policy spelling out what constitutes safe supervision in your club. And, if you have written guidelines, follow them.

If a child is injured and a lawsuit ensues, a court will want to know: Did the injury result, in part, from either a lack of or inadequate supervision? Was the supervisor competent? Were they present in the area they were supposed to be monitoring? Were they able to adequately supervise the number of children present? Was the club’s written policy being followed?

Staying out of legal hot water by ensuring child safety certainly starts by paying attention to the quality and quantity of supervision. The value of waivers and another document, a signed “agreement to participate” or “assumption of risk” form, is less clear, depending on such variables as the circumstances surrounding the injury and individual states’ interpretation of the related law.

A waiver is a contract in which the signer, either the child or their parent, waives the right to sue a club. As a general rule, however, minors aren’t bound by contracts. A study of sport-related cases involving children in 16 states revealed that, in every case in which the minor alone signed the waiver, they were able to get out of the contract.

Does a waiver signed by a parent on their child’s behalf release the club from liability in the event of an injury? Not necessarily. It depends on the state. For example, courts in Ohio, Maryland, and North Carolina have upheld the validity of releases signed by a parent on behalf of a minor. On the other hand, ones in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and New Jersey have held that such releases don’t bar future claims. Other states, such as Florida, will enforce such releases, but only for risks inherent in the activity—e.g., a simple fall on an ice skating rink. 

A signed agreement to participate or assumption of risk form may provide some legal protection, but, as with waivers, it depends on the specific circumstances. Basically, such documents attest that the signer understands and accepts that participating in the activity specified entails certain risks. For details on this option, and to learn more about the legal issues involved in hosting children at your club, download a copy of IHRSA's Kids in Your Club briefing paper.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided here is intended for the general education of IHRSA members, and shouldn’t be considered legal advice. Club operators requiring legal advice should consult an attorney qualified in this area. 

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