Editors’ Note: This article is a companion side bar to the Feature Article, “Assumption of Risk Forms: A Legal Blind Spot for Many Churches,” also available online to Church Law & Tax Report and ChurchLawAndTax.com subscribers.
1. Release forms will be strictly and narrowly construed against the church.
2. The courts are more likely to enforce a customized release or assumption of risk form than a generic form found on the internet. Ideally, the form should be drafted, or at least reviewed, by legal counsel. The importance of legal counsel in drafting release forms is illustrated by a recent federal court ruling in Tennessee that was described previously in this article. The case involved a legal form used by a church that was found on the internet. Church leaders failed to notice that the form required all employment disputes to be arbitrated in California! Clearly, the church was using a template that was intended for use in California, and neglected to make it Tennessee-specific. An attorney would have flagged this provision, and spared the Tennessee church of the needless expense of arbitrating in California.
3. Release forms will not be enforced if they are ambiguous.
4. Release forms will not be enforced if the person signing the form does not do so voluntarily.
5. Release forms will not be enforced if the person signing the form is not informed (by the language of the form) as to the specific risk that is being released. Activities giving risk to injuries must be specifically described along with a listing of the possible injuries.