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Liability Waivers for Teen Parties — a Good Idea?

Do you need to get legal guidance before sending your teen off to a party? That’s what an increasing number of parents are asking themselves. Some of our readers with high school-age kids may have already encountered a practice that is becoming more frequent, particularly in wealthier communities. It involves liability release forms for parties.

Some parents who host large gatherings such as after-prom parties at their homes are asking the parents of the guests, and sometimes the teens themselves, to sign such a release. The document ostensibly releases the hosting parents from liability if something happens to their child or their child causes harm to someone else.

In addition to the release of liability, some of these documents also include rules involving behavior that the guests are expected to adhere to, such as not smoking. They may detail expectations of the guests’ parents, including what time and by whom teens can be picked up after the party.

Moms and dads often feel compelled to sign the waivers. After all, who wants to keep their teen away from a party that everyone will be talking about the next week? However, receiving a form via email titled, for example, “Activity release of liability; read carefully — this affects your legal rights” can understandably be unnerving and possibly insulting.

Sometimes, the parents sending the waivers aren’t particularly comfortable with the idea either. As one father said, “It can feel ridiculous to take all of these precautions, but when you have a group of 18-years-olds, all parents should share the responsibility for all kids.”

If a teen suffers a personal injury or worse at a party, can this kind of waiver hold up in court? Lawyers say that in all likelihood it won’t. Some parents think that it can, however, at least provide the basis for a discussion between parents and teens about appropriate and inappropriate behavior, especially around sometimes touchy subjects like alcohol, drugs and sex.

Regardless of any liability waiver you have signed or any list of rules you have received, if your child suffers an injury at a party on someone else’s property, it’s still important to seek legal guidance. If you’re being asked to sign a document with which you don’t feel comfortable, it may also be a good idea to ask an lawyer to review it first.

Source: New York Times, “Prom Accessories: Corsages, Limousines and Liability Waivers,” Katherine Rosman, June 12, 2015

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