Play dates are a part of the bedrock of childhood. They help our kids learn to socialize, respect authority and develop friendships (they also give mommies a few hours to run errands or tend to those neglected chores). How do you feel about having to sign a waiver before your child skips off into her friend’s backyard?
A recent letter to “Miss Manners” in the Washington Post poses the question, “Am I overreacting, or has our society really come to believe that anyone who visits your home, and is injured, will sue?” The writer was responding to an incident in which a play date hostess asked her to sign a waiver prior to arriving. Has our litigious society taken the fun and spontaneity out of play dates?
Is it appropriate?
When your child is invited over to a friend’s house to play, most parents expect a certain level of parental supervision. There is also an assumption of safety and the expectation of generally harmless activities. But, a play date hostess totally changes the game when she asks for a waiver to be signed. “For one child coming over for a few hours of play, it may be excessive,” says Tom Simeone, a trial attorney and law professor in Washington D.C. “However, the request for a waiver should be seen for what it is — the host advising attendees that there are risks. People may not want to hear that, but it is useful information for people to have when determining whether to send their child, what to tell their child, and whether to accompany their child.”
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How to react
It can be shocking when another mom asks you to sign a play date waiver, so how do you react in that moment? Some may take the request personally or feel insulted, but the hostess could be sending a deeper message with her request. Perhaps she’s not confident in her own ability to supervise properly. If so, that’s a red flag for you! “[This would be an opportunity to] evaluate the types of activities, the number of kids involved, the amount of supervision — and appreciate that the host believes there is a risk of injury,” says Simeone. If you’re uncomfortable, maybe you should host the play date or pass all together.
Even if you’ve never personally been asked to sign a waiver, the idea may get you thinking about how to protect yourself on either end of the play date spectrum. As a hostess, if you’re not ready to take the waiver step yet, Simeone suggests you send a written invitation or email including the activities planned, the number and ages of kids involved, who will be supervising and a request for help supervising. “Most states bar a lawsuit by someone who ‘assumes the risk’ of an injury,” says Simeone. “If a parent has knowledge of the risks and sends her kid anyway and does not offer to help, she may be held to have assumed the risk of an injury. This is equivalent to putting out a ‘wet floor’ sign — it lets people know of a danger so that they can avoid it. That makes it harder for them to bring a claim if they choose to take the risk on.”
Disclaimer: This article does not take the place of actual legal advice. Ask a legal professional to address your specific situation.