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Minor Liability Waivers Ruled Enforceable in Tennessee, Interlocutory Appeal Allowed

A Davidson County Circuit Court recently ruled in our client’s favor by holding that a minor has no right to assert a claim for medical expenses if his parent previously signed a release.  This is the second ruling in our case styled Blackwell, et al. v. Sky High Sports Nashville Operations, LLC.  We posted a blog entry about the case earlier this year.

The case involves the increasingly common scenario where a parent signs a liability release contract for her child to participate in a physical activity – in our case, a dodgeball game at a trampoline facility.  When the child was allegedly injured, the mother filed suit against our client.  Initially, the mother asserted claims on her own behalf, as well as claims on behalf of her son. 

Among other damages, the mother sought reimbursement for the medical bills she paid on the child’s behalf.  We filed an initial motion seeking to dismiss the case arguing that the liability release was enforceable against both the mother and her son.  The court denied the motion.  Accordingly, we filed a request for permission to allow our client to seek an interlocutory appeal, which was ultimately granted.

The most recent issue decided by the court concerned who owns a claim for medical expenses ­­– the parent or the minor?  Existing Tennessee statutes and case law give parents a separate and distinct claim to recover medicals bills they are obligated to pay in the event of an injury to their children.  See Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-105; Dudley v. Phillips, 405 S.W.2d 468 (Tenn. 1966).  In addition, some Tennessee cases have held that a child may have a right to bring a claim for his own medical expenses – but only in certain contexts, like when a parent “assigns” that right to the child.  See Palanki v. Vanderbilt Univ., 215 S.W.3d 380 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2006); Smith v. King, 1984 WL 586817 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 21, 1984).

The court agreed with our position and did not allow the plaintiff to seek recovery of medical expenses.  In doing so, it recognized that a claim for medical expenses is a “separate” and “distinct” claim.  The court also reflected on specific situations when a minor may have a right to bring a claim for medical expenses, such as when a parent “assigns” that right to the minor.  However, the court was clear that where, as in our case, a parent contracted away her own right to recover medical expenses, there is simply nothing for her to “assign” to the minor. 

In addition to allowing an interlocutory appeal on the earlier denial of our dismissal motion, the court also allowed this most recent decision regarding medical expenses to be reviewed by the Tennessee Court of Appeals.  Although we obviously do not know if the appellate court will take the case, we are hopeful that it will do so.