Key point 10-16.6. A release form is a document signed by a competent adult that purports to relieve a church from liability for its own negligence. Such forms may be legally enforceable if they are clearly written and identify the conduct that is being released. However, the courts look with disfavor on release forms, and this has led to several limitations, including the following: (1) release forms will be strictly and narrowly construed against the church; (2) release forms cannot relieve a church of liability for injuries to minors, since minors have no legal capacity to sign such forms and their parents' signature does not prevent minors from bringing their own personal injury claim after they reach age 18; (3) some courts refuse to enforce any release form that attempts to avoid liability for personal injuries on the ground that such forms violate public policy; and (4) release forms will not be enforced unless they clearly communicate that they are releasing the church from liability for its negligence.
A Mississippi state appeals court ruled that a trial court erred in dismissing a lawsuit brought by the mother of a 17-year-old boy who was killed while participating on a mission trip to Costa Rica that had been organized by his church. In June of 2009, a church organized a mission trip to Costa Rica for the purpose of constructing a sanctuary. There were 20 members on the trip, including 13 adults and 7 minors. The trip was organized and led by the church's youth pastor. One of the participants on the trip was a 17-year-old male (the "victim") who was to begin his senior year in high school in the fall.