To Sign or not to Sign: The Legal Dilemma of School Permission Forms

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the titular wizard is denied from going on a field trip with his school. The thing standing between him and the field trip isn’t a dangerous spell or a magical beast, however. Harry just doesn’t have a permission form signed by his guardians. He has a pretty good excuse for not getting it signed, seeing as his parents were killed by a dark wizard. But still, rules are rules.

Harry ‘s fictional adventures are unique, but his permission form dilemma is something that many students face. Permission forms often accompany field trips, sporting events, or other school-related activities. These forms also act to protect the school in the event of an injury, illness, or other mishap.

Types of Permission Forms

For example, imagine a student is going on a trip with her fourth-grade class to Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo. Her guardian might receive a slip that says something like this:

“I acknowledge and accept that my child’s participation in this event is entirely voluntary. All risk is voluntarily assumed by my child and me. I hereby agree not to hold the school or any individual employed by the school liable for any expense, loss, personal injury, or accident to my child. I will not bring any suit against the school or supervisors as the result of any action taken.”

The above statement is an example of a blanket form.  A blanket form protects the school from a lawsuit for any injuries or damages, regardless of the cause. If the fourth-grader in the above examples falls into an animal exhibit while her supervision is negligently talking on the phone nearby, the blanket form might still prevent her guardian from taking legal action.

Another type of form is an informed consent form. These give the guardian a little more leeway in filing a lawsuit for their child’s injuries. On an informed consent form, the school outlines any potential dangers of the field trip or event. The form states they they are not liable for inherent risks. So, if the informed consent form stated that falling into an animal enclosure is an inherent risk of the trip, they would likely not be held liable for the accident. If a child is injured by something outside these inherent risks as a result of the school’s negligence, then the guardian may hold the school liable.

Permission Form = No Lawsuit?

A battle over permission forms played out in Iowa in 2005. A 14-year-old student sustained injuries after being hit by a car during a school field trip, and her parents sued the school district. After learning they couldn’t sue the school since they signed a liability waiver, they brought the case to the Iowa Supreme Court. At this level, the court found that the permission form was unenforceable, and that parents could not fully understand the risks involved with signing the form.

In most situations, though, these forms are enforceable, leaving guardians unable to take legal action. For guardians, being unable to seek justice for an injured child is an insufferable idea. But thanks to permission forms, this is sometimes the harsh reality.

Avoiding Legal Issues

Guardians should read all information from their child’s school very carefully, as they would with any legal document. Guardians can decline to agree with certain aspects of the form. However, they must do so with the understanding that the school may not allow the child to attend the event. If they have concerns about specific points of the form, they could discuss other options with their child’s school. If they have further concerns about a form, they could talk to an attorney who deals with premise liability or similar issues.

When a child just wants to have fun with their class, permission forms can be stressful and agitating. But remember, everyone has to deal with them — even wizards!

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The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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