Sharon v. City of Newton
437 Mass. 99, 769 N.E.2d 738, (Mass. 2002)
Sharon was injured during
cheerleader practice. She sued for damages.
Her father had signed a
"Parental Consent, Release from Liability and Indemnity
Agreement" with the school.
Sharon argued that they
didn't realize that they were waiving the right to make claims against
the school by signing the form.
Sharon also argued that the
waiver was made under duress
because she would have been barred from participating in cheerleading if
her father hadn't signed it.
The Trial Court found for
Newton. Sharon appealed.
The Trial Court found that
the waiver was a binding contract and Sharon could not sue.
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The Appellate Court found
that the waiver was clearly labeled and a reasonable person would have
understood what they were signing.
The Court found that Sharon
had a duty to read the contract.
It's not Newton's fault if
the Sharons' signed a contract they didn't read or understand.
The Court found that for
voluntary activities, like cheerleading, it's a take it or leave it
situation (better known as a contract of adhesion). There is no duress.
Duress is for contracts that you are forced to sign.
No one forced Sharon to sign this contract against her will.
Another aspect of this case
was whether Sharon's father could sign away her legal right to sue, and if
so, could Sharon disaffirm the contract under the infancy doctrine, which gives minors the right to repudiate
contracts under certain circumstances?
Here, the Court said that
the infancy doctrine does not
apply. The purpose of permitting minors to void contracts is to afford
them protection from "their own improvidence and want of sound
judgment." In this case, the father's judgment sufficed.