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School District’s Waiver Of Liability And Assumption Of Risk Agreement Barred Student Athlete’s Personal Injury Lawsuit Against District
In August 2015, Plaintiff Nicholas Brown (“Nick”) was a sophomore at Union Mine High School and a member of the junior varsity football team. Union Mine is a high school within the El Dorado Union High School District (“District”). Prior to the school year, every student who wished to participate in school athletics had to read, review, and sign an athletic handbook, which included a release of liability and an assumption of risk agreement. The handbook also included a concussion/head injury information sheet for parents. Prior to the start of the 2015-2016 football season, Nick and his father signed this agreement. Subsequently, Nick filed a lawsuit against the District after he suffered a traumatic brain injury during a football game.
The District argued that the release Nick and his father signed prior to the start of the football season bars Nick’s action against the District due to their express assumption of the risks involved in playing football. Nick argued that the release did not cover the District and his coaches’ actions or inactions because it did not reference the “potential for harm by coaches.” The trial court found in favor of the District, and Nick appealed the trial court’s decision. The California Court of Appeal for the Third District agreed with the trial court’s decision.
The Court of Appeal held that the release Nick and his father signed was a valid express release of liability and assumption of risk that covered both Nick’s injury and the actions of the District’s employees, and Nick could not establish that the District or its employees acted with gross negligence. The release stated that if Nick were to be “hurt, injured, or even die,” Nick and his parents would not make a claim against or sue the District, its trustees, officers, employees, and agents, or expect them to be responsible or pay for any damages. It acknowledged that “injuries might arise from…the actual or alleged failure by district employees, agents, or volunteers to adequately coach, train, instruct, or supervise,” and, “undiagnosed, improperly diagnosed, untreated, improperly treated, or untimely treated actual or potential injuries.” The signatories then “willingly assume[d] all risks and hazards of potential injury, paralysis, and death in the school-related activity/ies.”
The Court of Appeal found that in signing the release, Nick and his father agreed to assume the risk of injuries caused by District employees in coaching and supervising Nick while he played football, and in treating him for those injuries. Additionally, upheld the release of the District and any of its employees from any liability associated with their possible negligence in coaching Nick and/or treating him for injuries. Moreover, the Court of Appeal found that the District was not grossly negligent in informing students about the risks of head injuries in football, monitoring Nick during the game, and providing him with medical care at the game.
Brown v. El Dorado Union High School District (2022) No. C088204, 2022 WL 908883.