Have you ever wonder if those releases that places like Maryland amusement parks, ski facilities (Wisp, Whitetail), and Bounce U make us sign before our kids can participate in activities are valid? Well, I have. In fact until last week, this was an unsettled issue in Maryland because there was no case law directly on point. We now know that a release signed by a parent is invalid as to claims relating to a child’s injuries against a commercial for profit facility.

On August 30, 2012 the Maryland Court of Special Appeals issued its opinion in Rosen v. BJ’s Wholesalers. This court opinion, written by Judge Krauser, held that a release signed by a parent was invalid as to the child’s injury claim against BJ’s Wholesalers. In this case a 5 year old child was seriously injured while the kid was playing in the kids play area at BJ’s Wholesalers. The agreement signed by the parent, in addition to setting forth rules for the use of the kids play club, releases BJ’s Wholesale from “any and all claims and causes of action” arising from the use of the play center by a member’s child and requires a member to “indemnify, defend and hold harmless” BJ’s Wholesale from any such claims or causes of action.”

In a nutshell, the release agreement purportedly required that the parent and child give up the right to sue if the child was injured and it also had an indemnification clause in it which the Court also held invalid on public policy grounds. The child’s parent sued BJ’s on behalf of the minor child in Baltimore County Circuit Court, and the trial Court granted BJ’s Motion for Summary Judgment based on the release that the parent had signed. The parent appealed this decision to the Court of Special Appeals. The Court of Special Appeals noted that there was no prior case law on this exact issue in Maryland. The Court determined that BJ’s, as a commercial for profit establishment, could not alleviate its responsibility for the child’s injuries by having the parent sign a release. The Court noted that it was not deciding whether a negligence claim against the State of Maryland or a non-profit would turn out the same way. Instead, its holding is limited to the facts of this case where a child is injured at a commercial for profit facility.

As a parent and personal injury lawyer in Silver Spring, I think that this is a great decision because it will encourage any facility for children to adopt careful safety measures and also to obtain liability insurance. It will also encourage these places to have adequate supervision when children are playing.