Aspen Times Editorial: Court’s ruling could have negative impact on children
June 28, 2002
The Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling this week that parent-signed waivers hold no weight in the legal system has, we fear, opened up an unfortunate can of worms.
The court’s ruling on Monday grew out of a case involving a teenaged skier who was blinded after an accident during a training run on Aspen Mountain. David Cooper and his family have been attempting to sue the Aspen Valley Ski Club and then-Ski Club coach John McBride Jr. over the accident, which occurred in 1995. The Coopers believe the Ski Club course was set too close to the trees, and David’s accident could have been avoided had it been set “properly.”
Their attempt to win a legal judgment has yet to be considered by a jury. Both a district court judge and an appeals court ruled that the Coopers couldn’t sue because David and his mother had both signed a waiver at the beginning of the season surrendering their right to sue in case of injury or death. His mother also signed a clause indemnifying the Ski Club of any financial responsibility in the case of an accident.
This week, however, the state Supreme Court ruled that David’s mother did not have the ability to sign away her son’s right to seek monetary relief. In its ruling, the court cited similar decisions made by courts in other states and numerous Colorado laws that are designed to protect children’s rights.
This is a difficult case, and we must make it clear that we are not in any way offering a specific opinion on the merits of the Coopers’ case. However, the court’s blanket ruling regarding waivers is troubling and could have some serious consequences.
Certainly we don’t deny that, waiver or not, a minor and/or his family should have the right to seek monetary damages in any case where a supervisory person or group was negligent in the care of the child. After all, the care and safety of our children should be of the utmost importance. Any person or group in charge of children who acts in gross negligence should be liable for their actions.
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The problem is how to define what exactly constitutes gross negligence, and therefore allows someone who has signed a waiver the freedom to take legal action. Taken on a case-by-case basis, it certainly seems within the realm of a judge’s authority to decide when negligence in such a case is severe enough to override a waiver’s protection.
That said, the court’s ruling this week could have some rather severe long-term effects on our children’s ability to take part in recreational and athletic activities. With no protection against civil action, coaches, counselors and others who would give their time to guide our children in these types of activities are certainly more likely now to think twice before volunteering their time.
And it is obvious that these types of activities are important to the proper physical and intellectual growth of a child. How would our children fare without the ability to play football, take swimming lessons, compete in soccer or learn the art of ski racing? Life for them would indeed be boring, and their ability to choose their own path as they reach adulthood and compete in the real world would be severely jeopardized.
That’s not to say that the court’s ruling means these opportunities will all instantly disappear. However, the fact is that the filing of frivolous lawsuits has become a plague in this country. And we fear the court’s ruling this week will open the door to anyone who wants to sue any time their child gets a broken nose in a wrestling match or trips over their feet on the tennis court.
It is our hope that this issue will be addressed by the Colorado Legislature, and that lawmakers find some way to strike a balance that protects both the children and the people charged with protecting our children.
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