Legislature(2003 - 2004)
04/29/2004 04:12 PM STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 273-PARENTS' WAIVER OF CHILD'S SPORTS CLAIM CHAIR GARY STEVENS announced HJR 41 to be up for consideration. VANESSA TONDINI, staff to Representative Lesil McGuire, explained that the bill gives legal recognition to the right of a parent to waive, on behalf of his or her child, any claim of negligence against a provider of sports and recreational activities. This issue arose as a result of a Colorado Supreme Court decision that held otherwise. TAPE 04-29, SIDE B 5:00 p.m. MS. TONDINI continued to say that parents have the legal right to sign waivers for their child in areas of education or medical treatment so it's reasonable to extend the same logic to recreational activities. As a practical matter, if parental authority isn't found here then release waivers could be found to be invalid in any activity so insurance coverage would be jeopardized. The result would be that few programs would go forward. As an outdoor oriented and supported state, Alaska can't stand by and watch this happen. The bill makes it clear that parents do have the right to sign these types of waivers, but would not defeat a parent or guardian's right to sue an operator that was not providing a safe service or activity. Typically release waivers are only able to release causes of negligence; cases of reckless or intentional misconduct are never released and are exempted from the bill. The definition of "parent" begins on page 2, line 30 and continues through page 3, line 9. This definition has been given careful consideration and evaluation as the bill moved through the various committees and should cover everyone who has the legal right or ability to release claims for a child while excluding all others. CHAIR GARY STEVENS questioned what the consequences would be if the bill did not pass. MS. TONDINI said that if a parent's right to sign these waivers isn't recognized then the courts and the recreational industry would be in a state of uncertainty as to who has the legal right to sign these release waivers which would make insurance coverage uncertain. SENATOR GRETCHEN GUESS remarked that parents are frequently required to sign a waiver and show proof of insurance or they are required to purchase insurance before his or her child is able to participate in a sports or recreational activity. She asked if this would impact the ability to make that requirement. MS. TONDINI said that, to her knowledge, the bill wouldn't impact any requirement that a company might have to demand some sort of insurance proof. In fact, she opined, it might be strengthened. TRACEY L. KNUTSON, Attorney at Law, Sisson & Knutson, PC, testified via teleconference to say that she assisted in authoring this bill. She also worked on similar legislation in Colorado as a result of the Colorado case. She explained that this is intended to be a preemptive message to the courts that parents do have the right to make these types of decisions for their children. Alaska doesn't want to face a situation in which the state courts, in response to litigation, say these releases are invalid. Because the courts in her area have been particular about when they will and will not recognize releases, she opined that it is important to think about sending a message that says that parents in this recreation, outdoor, and sports oriented state want to be able to have the opportunity to send their children to these programs and not have those programs shut down. Ms. Knutson advised that her law practice focuses around the recreational area. She said, "What we see is kind of a domino effect. If you don't have decent releases, whether you're an adult or a child, but particularly in this instance, we're talking about waivers in favor of children. If you don't have a release, you won't be able to buy comprehensive general liability or CGL style insurance. If you don't have insurance in place [indis.] the property administrators won't allow the programs to operate when there's no insurance. So you begin to see the collapse of a lot of these programs if you don't have decent releases." There were no further questions. CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked for the pleasure of the committee. SENATOR BERT STEDMAN motioned to report CSSSHB 273(JUD) from committee with individual recommendations and the attached fiscal zero notes. There being no objection, it was so ordered.