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For Whom Do I Sign? New Jersey Appellate Division Finds Chaperone Lacked Authority to Sign Liability Waiver

May 28, 2021

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Gayles.pdf">Gayles</a> v. Sky Zone Trampoline Park, et al.</em>, the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division examined whether a parent had apparent authority to sign a liability waiver on behalf of the parents of other children who attended her son’s birthday party at a trampoline park.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Under the facts of the case, the parent chaperone, Joan Tongol, invited the plaintiff’s son, as well as eight other friends, to her son’s birthday party at the trampoline park. Upon arrival, the trampoline directed Ms. Tongol to e-sign an agreement waiving certain rights, and agreeing to arbitrate any liability claims. The waiver opened with the following language: “I[,] on behalf of myself, my spouse, my children, my parents, my heirs, my assigns, personal representatives, estate, and insurers, agree as follows.” The waiver further requested that the signer certify to being the parent or legal guardian of the children listed.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Ms. Tongol read, completed, and signed the agreement. Ms. Tongol later testified she was authorized to sign the agreement on behalf of all the children present in her group. During the birthday party, the plaintiff’s son fractured his leg while playing on the trampolines. Plaintiff sued Sky Zone for negligence individually and on behalf of her son. Sky Zone moved for summary judgment citing the signed waiver and argued that it had a reasonable belief that Ms. Tongol possessed apparent authority to sign on behalf of the other children and their parents. The trial court denied the motion, and Sky Zone appealed.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Under the doctrine of apparent authority, liability is imposed upon a principal not due to an actual contractual relationship, but because the principal’s actions misled a third-party into believing a relationship of authority existed. <em>Mercer v. Weyerhaeuser Co.</em>, 324 N.J. Super (App. Div. 1999). The party seeking to rely upon such authority bears the burden of proof. In its decision, Court also noted its recent adoption of the Restatement (Third) of Agency. Under the Restatement (Third) of the Agency, the question for the trier of act is whether a reasonable person in the position of the third party would believe the agent had the authority or right to act.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Here, the Court observed that Sky Zone’s employees neither asked Ms. Tongol about her representations nor took notice of the eight different surnames on the waiver form. The Court agreed with the trial court that the assumption of authority without further questioning by Sky Zone was patently unreasonable. Additionally, the Court noted there is no New Jersey case law in which a party, who is not a parent, guardian, or attorney-in-fact, had authority to waive a minor’s claims for personal injury.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Benjamin Ferrell for his contribution to this post. Please contact <a href="mailto:Haquino@wcmlaw.com">Heather Aquino</a> with any questions.</p>

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