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' signatures do not prevent minors from bringing their own personal injury claims 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 Kentucky court ruled that a minor who was injured while participating in a church's summer camp program was not barred from suing the church by a release form signed by her mother. A 16-year-old girl (the "victim") attended a church and was a member of the church youth group. The youth group was planning a five-day summer camp, and in advance of the camp, it sent information packets to parents that included a "medical permission and release form" that asked for the minor participant's name and address, the guardian's name and phone number, as well as information regarding immunizations, allergies, any medications taken by the participant, and childhood diseases. On the same form, in a clause titled "Permission For Medical Treatment, Photography/Video Notice, and Release and Indemnity," the form states:
My permission is granted for the camp or event director, church official, any camp or event staffer, or adult present or in charge of First Aid, to obtain necessary medical attention in case of sickness or injury to my child. Also, I understand that as a participant, my child may be photographed or videotaped during normal camp or event activities and these photos/videos may be used in promotional materials.
I, the undersigned, do hereby verify that the above information is correct and I do hereby release and forever discharge [the church], camp or event sponsors, or state conventions and their employees from any and all claims, demands, actions, or causes of actions, past, present, or future arising out of any damage or injury while employed by or participating in this camp or event. I agree to indemnify [the church] from any and all claims, demands, damages, injuries, cost, suits or causes of action, past, present, or future arising out of or caused by my child while participating in this camp or event or while on property leased or owned by [the church].