Watch out for that small print when summer fun beckons

Summer sunshine means more outdoor activity for family members, but such fun in the sun could mean unexpected legal worries. Your child wants to go horseback riding or take a school trip; you’re asked to sign a release. The family heads for a water park or rockclimbing wall; you notice a disclaimer of responsibility on the back of the tickets after you’ve paid for everyone.

They pop up year-round but most often in summertime: “releases from liability” or release forms from school, along with tiny-print caveats on the backs of tickets — all meant to protect purveyors of fun and frolic from liability in case a child or family member gets hurt. What do they mean, and should you sign?

Whether the activity is low-risk or high-impact; from hiking to parachuting; at private facilities or public ones, the trend is to try to protect sponsors of such activities from responsibility for your safety. Such “exculpatory release agreements” are the providers’ way of protecting themselves. In the midst of a light-hearted outing, it’s hard to stop and think about what could go wrong, but signing or accepting these could create terrible financial and emotional problems should an accident occur and someone gets hurt. These agreements can result in a negligence action being dismissed simply based on the release or ticket, rather than tried on its merits.

Releases absolving owners of recreational facilities from liability for injuries as a result of their negligence generally were enforced. Since 1976 legislation, though, consumers have been protected from such releases, based on the idea that they are either unaware of such language in admission tickets or don’t realize the legal consequences of signing such releases.

“We all hope that all our clients and their families have an eventful but safe and happy summer,” said Managing Partner Peter T. Rodgers. “However, if a family member is injured as a result of carelessness on the part of the recreational facility and you’ve signed a release or accepted a ticket with such language on it, don’t assume that you have no recourse. Be sure to contact us immediately and let us review your situation. You may be able to recoup your losses and cover your expenses.”