I serve as a constant embarrassment to my teenage daughter (a.k.a. Miss Sparkle). I am regularly asked in the most dramatic presentation possible, “Why can’t you be like all the other parents?” This lament surfaces whenever I try and do what I view as a parent’s due diligence. According to my daughter, I am the only parent that does the things I do, asks the questions I ask, thinks the things I think, and worries about the things I worry about.
She says these things as if the mere mention of them will dissuade or modify my behavior. She thinks I do not understand the teenage technique of applying parent peer pressure to get one’s way. You would think that with three older siblings that can testify in regard to futile techniques that she would know when to move on. Oh, but not Miss Sparkle…oh no, she keeps giving it the college try.
The most recent case-in-point: my concern over a school trip form that provided the school and the Minnesota learning camp they were headed to a blanket waiver of liability for all acts that resulted in harm or loss to my darling child – to include intentional and negligent acts. My opinion is that such a blanket waiver is oppressive and unconscionable. Indeed, I don’t believe anyone’s signature on the form would prevent a successful plaintiff verdict. But even believing as I do, I balked at signing such a document.
Here’s the thing – I know most parents will be handed the form, won’t read it fully, and will sign it in a hurry. Even if they did read it, the problem section is so poorly written that they might not fully appreciate what rights they were signing away. I think folks who put together such forms know that most parents don’t fully read or understand them and the person presenting the form benefits from that. Additionally, I think that should something happen wherein a parent looks to the camp to provide redress for an injury or loss, the camp will include that form with a letter from their legal counsel and effectively shut down most disputes. That bugs me tremendously. I do not like it when craftiness wins out over doing what is right and just.
Here is what the troubling paragraph of the form says (the “above noted group” is West Fargo High School and the “xxxx xxxxx xxx” is the camp name):
“Accordingly, I hereby release the above noted group and xxxx xxxxx xxx, including all of their personnel, agents, affiliates, staff and directors, from any and all claims and liabilities with respect to injury, sickness, disease, loss or damage sustained by the above named child. This release applies to any and all liabilities to me or my estate, of any description, whether arising from ordinary negligence or otherwise, and whether involving fees and expenses of any kind. In the event that some other person or entity seeks compensation for these released liabilities, I, or my estate, will indemnify and hold harmless the above noted group and xxxx xxxxx xxx for all sums incurred in response to that claim. This release is to be interpreted and enforced under Minnesota law.”
Of course the form is required for my daughter’s participation in the activity. If I do not sign, she does not go. So I felt obliged to add additional language to my form before signing it. I also sent an email to the lead faculty member on the team taking the group on the field trip. I figured the form came from the camp and was included in the field trip packet with little additional thought from the faculty team. Let’s face it, we see these types of forms every day online and in business interactions and more often than not we sign them without giving it another thought. Of course a camp will have such a form, it makes sense for such a business. Plus we live in a litigious society, there are very few perceived offenses that cannot be whipped into some form of lawsuit. So yes, I get it – but there are limits to such things.
I told the faculty member I communicated with that I would sign the form (with my comments), but that I would also be following up with high school administration and the camp regarding the form. I thought given how poorly the section was written, that the camp had likely just searched the Internet for others’ release forms and cut and pasted pieces from those. I think this happens a lot with these type of forms.
When I called the camp I spoke with a very nice woman who is charge of camp programming. I expressed my concerns about the language on the form, the comments I added, my daughter’s consternation that I could not be like all the other parents, and the fact that such a blanket waiver does not imbue confidence in parents in regard to the safety and security of the facility or the accountability of the personnel. I gathered from my quite amiable conversation with the nice woman that no one had called the camp before and had such a conversation. The nice woman told me they had hired an attorney to draft the form for them. I refrained from making comments regarding my opinion of the attorney’s caliber given the way the form was worded. Instead, I focused on having a conversation that I hoped would result in the camp creating a new form. The nice woman promised to share the comments on my daughter’s form and from our conversation with the appropriate folks and thanked me for providing insight into challenges regarding the form that had not been addressed prior. And for those readers who are curious about why I did not mention the camp’s name, the reason is I want to give them the opportunity to do better now that they know better. On all other fronts, this camp appears to be a magical place and I don’t want to frame the facility in a negative light based on their placement of trust in a lawyer.
When I picked Miss Sparkle up from school and she learned that I had communicated across all these channels (but had ultimately still signed the forms), she was noticeably relieved but still felt obliged to throw out her favorite query – “Why can’t you be like all the other parents?” After I laughed out loud, I said, “I don’t know…why can’t I be like all the other parents? Oh wait, I know because I am your mother. Aren’t you a lucky girl??!!” As she shifted her frame to look out the window so she could roll her eyes with abandon, I saw the tiniest of smiles emerge from the corner of the left side of her mouth. In that moment I knew that she understood that there is – in some universe – value in having a mama that cares enough to do such things. 😉
Day one thousand five hundred and twenty-nine of the new forty – obla di obla da