Permission Slips, Releases & Liability
Michael F. Bowman (mfbowman@CAP.GWU.EDU)
Fri, 1 Jul 1994 00:49:25 -0400
By way of introduction, because this is my first stab at using SCOUTS-L; I
am Michael F. "Mike" Bowman, Deputy District Commission for Exploring,
George Washington District, National Capital Area Council, an Eagle Scout,
Vigil Honor member of OA, a Firecrafter, Wood Badger (Beaver) and National
Camping School repeater (Ecology/Commissioner/Program Director). My
association with Scouting includes camp staffs in 4 Councils and Scouting
in a few more. In real life I am an attorney licensed to practice in the
State of Washington, but working for Uncle Sam here in Northern Virginia.
In the discussion on permission slips, somebody suggested that a lawyer
should be heard from on the issue. Maybe there are some things that I can
suggest that would be helpful:
Permission slips such as those found on page 84 of the Cub Scout Leader
Book and page A-87 of the Explorer Leader Handbook serve a different
purpose than a release form. The serve to demonstrate that a Scout leader
has proper temporary legal custody of a minor child . . . in other words
the Scout is in the right place, not kidnapped, not led astray, etc. In
many jurisdictions the law recognizes that a temporary legal custodian has
certain rights and duties as to the child.
Release forms that address liability such as the one found in the
Backpacking Merit Badge Pamphlet that George Huffman mentioned, may be a
good idea depending on your state's laws. If the matter can be considered
as a contract; e.g. I waive liability in exchange for the benefits of the
BSA program, you may gain some legal advantage and hesitancy on the part
of parents to bring litigation. But, I would advise all Scouters to be
aware that the law in almost every jurisdiction will not favor any
advance waiver of liability. The Courts in case after case have come down
with rulings that it is against public policy to allow a wrongdoer to
insulate him/herself against liability by an advance agreement. In this
area your best bet is to consult with your Council's Scout Executive
and/or his legal counsel. Almost every Council has a legal counsel
position as one of the officers on the Council's executive board. Your
local Council's counsel will be familiar with the laws that apply in your
jurisdiction and can tell you much better whether a release from liability
has much value.
Medical release forms also may be a question for your Council's lawyer.
For many jurisdictions the statement on the reverse side of the Cub Scout,
Boy Scout, and Explorer application will do nicely. However, some
jurisdictions are now leaning toward notarized releases similar to the one
suggested by George Schmit in New York. The key thing is here is to know
what is required where you live and where you will be traveling. If a
hospital is likely to decline emergency treatment without a notarized
release (like a power-of-attorney), then you may want to use George's
format or one suggested by lawyers in your Council more familiar with the
law in your jurisdiction.
Probably the best advice on liability is similar to that advanced by
Gestaultas on prevention. If you follow the BSA rules, regulations and
policies and add a measure of common sense in safety matters you will
reduce the opportunity for legal liability measurably. Unfortunately, we
all have heard cases that make it clear that there is always risk.
While Scouting excels in trying to maintain safe camps through its
inspection programs and training courses, we also need keep asking questions.
Is a special permission form required? For flying, scout lifeguard and
some other activities the answer is yes. What medical form is required?
The best advice comes from the BSA Publication Health and Safety Guide.
Are there safety precautions we should be aware of? For example, stoves
and lanterns. BSA offers courses in this area.
Equally important, keep updated on the medical conditions of your Scouts,
especially when it comes to Rxs at camp. This latter situation is one
that sneaks up on leaders and has the potential to quickly become
Challenge your roundtable or commissioner's staff to put on a top-notch
health and safety session once a year to keep leaders up to date on BSA
policy, local legal considerations, etc. Sure, it can be boring, but I
can guarantee you that a personal injury trail won't be.
Finally, let me apolgize for being so long-winded the first time out, I
suffer from the lawyer's disease.
Michael F. Bowman
DDC-E, GW, NCAC
The opinions expressed are my own and not
those of the BSA, nor are they intended as
legal advice in specific situations. Please
consult local attorneys regarding law in
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City