Playdate Contracts – Parenting in a Sue Happy World

How would you feel about signing a ‘playdate contract’ before dropping your child off at a friend’s house to play?

The reality is that in a world that has become sue happy, even parents and children are not exempt from the possibility of being sued by a friend or classmate, should an unfortunate incident occur while another child is in your home. After all, how well do you really know the parents at the home where your child is going to be playing? At some point, every grand friendship between parents and children starts out new. In this ‘beginning’ phase, you really have no idea what goes on behind closed doors, or what kind of people no matter how upstanding they appear another family is. If their child is at your home and he broke his or her knee while on a trampoline, the law says they CAN sue you for the injury, which would typically fall back on your homeowner’s policy. Apparently, gone are the days where bumps and bruises, falls and injuries are all conjured up to just a normal part of childhood.

Today other parents can be seen as negligent and incidences that occur in your home even freak accidents like falling down stairs, are things that you can legally be held accountable for. The reality is that the laws of liability haven’t changed a bit. But people have. And the world has gone for lack of better terms, ‘sue happy,’ meaning that people you know even like or love can sue you for just about anything that occurs on your property.

According to the American Academy of Law, lawyers are seeing an increase in parents suing other parents for incidences that occur in the home. And this has many parents becoming increasingly paranoid and asking that other parents sign a waiver when sending their child over for a simple play date. The subject was even breached in a recent Washington Post Miss Manners column, asking if doing so requesting that a parent sign a waiver of liability prior to a play date is rude? And her answer of course, was to sign the waiver the first time then try to find less paranoid parents for your child to play with.

Generally speaking, if you are having a get together or birthday party at a bounce house, or establishment outside of your home that comes with a risk of injury, the organization will ask that all parents sign a waiver of liability upon signing in. This is routine, and simply a way for organizations to protect themselves from being targeted by parents looking to cash in for an injury or incidence of perceived negligence. Obviously, bounce houses and other establishments carry a certain inherent risk of injury. And so do many homes. Equally as dangerous are children’s sporting activities. Today, upon signing up with local recreation departments for activities many parents are forced to not just sign a waiver liability but also a refusal for added insurance so that the agency hosting the event cannot be held responsible for an injury. And youth coaches also carry a great deal of insurance in case something happens to one of their players under their supervision.

But for a play date? Are play date contracts really reasonable? One family law attorney says yes, and here is why. For instance, if your child’s best friend has a swimming pool or trampoline then you realize of course that there is a risk of injury should your child use these facilities while at a friend’s house. The liability waiver simply states that you as the parent understand these risks, and will not sue the person should something bad happen. For many homeowners these play date contracts provide a layer of protection, or insurance that they won’t be sued by another parent. Ideally, this is a good idea from a financial standpoint. However, from a social standpoint it may look odd, out of place, mistrusting and slightly suspicious.

The truth is that you can never be too careful, especially when you are dealing with people that you don’t know very well and their children. Over all, the idea of a play date contact seems a little over the top and paranoid. How many of you would really be comfortable asking for one? On the other hand, one unfortunate incident under your supervision and on your property could also leave you destitute and troubled.

It is important to realize that with or without a contract, when a child is in YOUR home and under YOUR supervision you are the responsible adult party. If another parent finds that you did something negligible, which led to injury or damage they can sue regardless of a liability waiver. For this reason, it is especially important to pay careful attention and keep a good watch on other people’s children when they are at your home. You also should be choosy with whom you decide to leave your kids with, and what kind of kids you choose to come into your home. If you aren’t sure of the parents, and your child is very young, then quite frankly you should have play dates where both parents stay for the duration of the visit, and hold these visits outside of your home until you get to know one another better.

Furthermore if you have apparatuses at your home such as a swing set, a pool, a trampoline, an ATV vehicle etc. that could possibly be dangerous or threatening to other kids then simply refrain from allowing other people’s children to utilize them when they visit unless the parent stays, or unless they sign a waiver.