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Student Athlete’s Claim For Negligence Against School Dismissed Due To School’s Waiver
Concordia University, a private university in Nebraska, recruited Konrad Sinu to play for the University’s intercollegiate men’s soccer team. The University provided Sinu with soccer and academic scholarships. Before Sinu moved to Nebraska from his home in England, he signed an “Assumption of Risk and Waiver of Liability Release.” Because Sinu was 18 years old and the age of majority in Nebraska is 19 years old, his mother also signed the release.
During a mandatory circuit-training workout at the university, Sinu injured his eyes while performing an exercise with a resistance band. Sinu and his mother sued the University for negligence. The University raised a number of defenses, including that the claim was barred by the release signed by Sinu and his mother.
The trial court found in favor of the University and dismissed the complaint. The trial court rejected arguments that the release was unconscionable, that it did not release the University from liability for its own negligence, and that the release did not amount to an assumption of risk. Sinu and his mother appealed, alleging that the release did not contain express or clear and unequivocal language that the parties intended to release the University from its own negligence.
The Court of Appeal found that, although the release did not use the words “negligence” or “fault,” the intended effect of the release was clear and the language clearly demonstrated an intent to eliminate the University’s liability.
The Court of Appeal also found that the language was not ambiguous. The language plainly stated that Sinu released the University “from and against any and all claims, demands, injuries, actions, or cause of actions, for costs, expenses or damages to personal property, or personal injury, or death, which may result from my presence at or participation in any such [u]niversity activities.” The Court of Appeal found that the language covered “any” claim for ordinary negligence, including a claim caused by the University’s ordinary negligence, and, therefore, was not ambiguous.
Finally, the Court of Appeal found that the contract was not unconscionable nor against public policy. The Court of Appeal noted that the release’s first sentence informed Sinu to speak with an attorney before signing if he had any concerns. As a minor, Sinu’s mother also had to agree to the terms and sign the release. Sinu and his mother had a month prior to moving to Nebraska to consider and agree to the terms. The Court of Appeal found that as a private university, offering a recreational activity, the release did not relate to public or essential services, and Sinu and his mother signed voluntarily. The Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s decision to dismiss the case.
Sinu v. Concordia University (Neb. Jan. 13, 2023) 983 N.W.2d 511.
The court dismissed this case because the university followed the proper procedures when warning student-athletes of the risks of recreational activities, and had a well-written release that protected the university against claims of ordinary negligence. This is a good reminder for schools to check their recreation, activity, and field-trip waivers for release language that will adequately protect the school in case of injury due to ordinary negligence, and that schools should give families enough notice and opportunity to consider the risks before signing.