Please explain how to make an IRAC for this case
Summary of this case:
In late January of 2009, J.T.—a minor from Indiana and a competitive motocross rider—traveled to Monster Mountain MX Park in Alabama. Prior to departing, J.T.'s parents signed a notarized authorization for James Thompson (J.T.'s coach) to act as their son's legal guardian for the purpose of signing all release of liability and registration forms.
January of 2009, J.T.—a minor from Indiana and a competitive motocross rider—traveled to Monster Mountain MX Park in Alabama. Prior to departing, J.T.'s parents signed a notarized authorization for James Thompson (J.T.'s coach) to act as their son's legal guardian for the purpose of signing all release of liability and registration forms.
To ride at Monster Mountain, all riders are required to pay an entry fee and execute a "Release and Waiver of Liability and Indemnity Agreement" (the "Release") that reads:
IN CONSIDERATION of being permitted to enter ... EACH OF THE UNDERSIGNED, for himself, his personal representatives, heirs, and next of kin, acknowledges, agrees, and represents that he has or will immediately upon entering ... [inspect the premises] ... [and] HEREBY RELEASES, WAIVES, DISCHARGES, AND COVENANTS NOT TO SUE the ... track operator [or] track owner ... from all liability to the undersigned, his personal representatives, assigns, heirs, and next of kin for any and all loss or damage ... whether caused by the negligence of the releasees or otherwise while the undersigned Page 447is in or upon the restricted area ... [and] HEREBY AGREES TO INDEMNIFY AND SAVE AND HOLD HARMLESS the releasees and each of them from any loss, liability, damage, or cost they may incur due to the presence of the undersigned in or upon the restricted area ... [and] HEREBY ASSUMES FULL RESPONSIBILITY FOR AND RISK OF BODILY INJURY, DEATH OR PROPERTY DAMAGE due to the negligence of releasees or otherwise.... THE UNDERSIGNED HAS READ AND VOLUNTARILY SIGNS THE RELEASE AND WAIVER ... and further agrees that no oral representations, statements or inducements apart from the foregoing written agreement have been made.
Each day that J.T. rode the track at Monster Mountain, J.T. and Thompson signed the Release on J.T.'s behalf and paid J.T.'s entry fee. During his first three days of riding, J.T. rode without incident, but on the morning of February 1, 2009, J.T. rode over a blind jump, became airborne, and crashed into a tractor on the track that he did not see until he was airborne.
J.T. sued Monster Mountain alleging negligence, premises liability, and wantonness for its failure to remove the tractor from the track. Monster Mountain moved for summary judgment on the basis that the Release barred J.T.'s claim.
Albritton, Senior District Judge
The issue before the court is whether J.T.'s negligence claims against the Monster Mountain Defendants are barred by the Release. The Monster Mountain Defendants contend that they are entitled to summary judgment because J.T. signed the Release and Thompson "signed [the Release] on [J.T.'s] behalf," thus binding J.T. to a contract that exculpates the Monster Mountain Defendants from liability for J.T.'s injuries.
J.T. responds that, under Alabama law, a contract made with a minor is voidable. [Case citation omitted] J.T. argues that because the Release is effectively a contract with a minor, whether signed on his behalf or not, the Release is not binding on him.
The Monster Mountain Defendants concede that J.T.'s signature on the contract cannot make it binding, due to the rule that a contract with a minor is voidable. However, they attempt to overcome J.T.'s argument by asserting that Thompson, an adult who was acting on behalf of J.T.'s parents, signed the Release on J.T.'s behalf. Thus, the Monster Mountain Defendants contend that if a child's parents, acting through an agent, sign an exculpatory contract on their child's behalf, the contract is binding on the child and not voidable.
As the following discussion indicates, the court agrees with J.T., and therefore, summary judgment is due to be denied.
A. Alabama Law
The parties agree that Alabama law applies in this case. They also agree that Alabama courts have not addressed the specific factual situation presented by this case. However, Alabama courts have dealt with three relevant legal principles.
First, Alabama, like virtually all jurisdictions, applies the longstanding common law rule that, except for a contract for necessaries, "a minor is not liable on any contract he makes and that he may disaffirm the same." [Case citation omitted] This rule exists to protect minors from being taken advantage of by others due to minors' "improvidence and incapacity." [Case citation omitted] This rule is firmly entrenched in the common law and has existed at least since the year 1292. [Citation omitted]
Second, while Alabama courts have noted an exception to this rule, that exception is narrow. [Discussion of the narrow exception in Alabama pertaining to medical insurance and public policy considerations]
Third, Alabama courts have restricted the right of a parent or guardian to release a minor's post-injury claims. [Case citation omitted] Specifically, a parent or guardian cannot bind a minor to a settlement that releases the minor's post-injury claims without express court approval. The rationale behind the need for express court approval, similar to the voidable contract rule for minors, is to protect the minor's "best interest[s]."
The teaching of these cases is that, in Alabama, the default rule is that contracts with minors are voidable....
B. Law from Other Jurisdictions
Because no Alabama case or statute directly addresses the issue of the case at bar, the court turns to the law of other jurisdictions for persuasive guidance. There are three important conclusions to be drawn from the law of other jurisdictions.
First, the majority rule in the United States is that parents may not bind their children to pre-injury liability waivers by signing the waivers on their children's behalf. See, e.g., Galloway v. Iowa, 790 N.W.2d 252, 256 (Iowa 2010) (listing cases and stating that "the majority of state courts who have examined the issue ... have concluded public policy precludes enforcement of a parent's preinjury waiver of her child's cause of action for injuries caused by negligence"); Kirton v. Fields, 997 So. 2d 349, 356 (Fla. 2008) (listing cases, and stating that "[i]n holding that preinjury releases executed by parents on behalf of minor children are unenforceable for participation in commercial activities, we are in agreement with the majority of other jurisdictions.").
Second, many courts rejecting parents' right to bind children to pre-injury releases have relied on legal principles recognized by Alabama, as discussed above. For example, courts have relied in part on the principle that parents may not bind a child to a settlement releasing post-injury claims without court approval. Galloway, 790 N.W.2d at 257 ("As the Washington Supreme Court has noted, if a parent lacks authority without court Page 448approval to compromise and settle her minor child's personal injury claim after an injury has occurred, 'it makes little, if any, sense to conclude a parent has the authority to release a child's cause of action prior to an injury.'") [Additional case citations omitted] Courts have also relied on the policy, also recognized in Alabama, of the state's role of protecting minors from harm. [Case citations omitted]
Third, the only published decisions from other jurisdictions that have bound children to pre-injury releases executed by a parent or guardian on the child's behalf have done so in the context of a "minor's participation in school-run or community-sponsored activities." [Case citations omitted] By contrast, this court is not aware of a single case, that has not been overturned, that has held these clauses to be binding in the context of a for-profit activity.
C. Application to the Case at Bar
The court concludes, based on the law of Alabama as well as persuasive authority from other jurisdictions, that the Release signed by Thompson on J.T.'s behalf is not binding on J.T.
Children tend to be vulnerable in such situations, however, in ways adults are not. The parent who reads, understands, and executes a waiver of liability for her child is not the person who will participate in the activity.
First, J.T. is a minor, so the applicable default rule under Alabama law is that any contract made with J.T. is voidable.
Second, there is no exception under current Alabama law that requires that this court apply a different rule under the facts of this case....
Third, under Alabama law, a parent may not bind a child to a settlement releasing the child's post-injury claims without express court approval. This court agrees with the rationale of other jurisdictions that it would be completely illogical if, despite this rule, a parent could bind a child, before any injury occurs, to an exculpatory clause releasing parties from any liability for injuries which might be caused in the future, simply by signing a contract on the child's behalf.
Fourth, the weight of authority in other jurisdictions suggests that the release in this case is not binding. The majority rule in jurisdictions throughout the United States is that a parent may not bind a child to a liability waiver. Moreover, and more significantly, no published decision that has not been overturned holds that a parent may bind a child to a liability waiver in favor of a for-profit entity, such as the Monster Mountain Defendants in this case. The few cases that have upheld a pre-injury waiver have made a point of emphasizing that the policy reasons for doing so are based on the fact of the defendant being a non-profit sponsor of the activity involved, such as with school extra-curriculars.
Based on all of the above considerations, the court concludes that, under Alabama law, a parent may not bind a child to a pre-injury liability waiver in favor of a for-profit activity sponsor by signing the liability waiver on the child's behalf. Accordingly, the Release Thompson signed on J.T.'s behalf, based on authority given by J.T.'s parents, does not bar J.T. from asserting a negligence claim against the Monster Mountain Defendants. Summary judgment on this issue in favor of the Monster Mountain Defendants, therefore, is due to be DENIED
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