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 Colorado court ruled that a release form signed by a parent whose minor daughter attended an offsite church activity did not relieve the church from liability for catastrophic injuries sustained by the daughter during the activity. A group of 60 teenagers attended a three-day church retreat at a ranch. All of the participants were required to submit a registration form, signed by at least one parent, that contained the following release of liability provision:
I give permission for my child to participate in [the event] and all activities associated with it. I further give consent for any medical treatment necessary to be given to my child in case of injury or sickness. I will not hold [the church] or its participants responsible for any liability which may result from participation. I also agree to come and pick up my child should they not obey camp rules.