A Release signed during minority continues in effect after reaching 18, sometimes

The Oregon Court of Appeals today issued its decision in Bagley v. Mt. Bachelor, Inc., A148231 (September 5, 2013), holding that a full release from negligence applies even though the person was a minor when originally signed (with parental approval), and later becomes an adult, because the person ratified the release by continuing to use the ski lifts after reaching the age of majority. 

The plaintiff below had argued that the trial court was wrong by:

(1) concluding that there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether Bagley ratified, after reaching the age of majority, a release agreement entered into while he was a minor; (2) concluding that the release agreement was not contrary to public policy; and (3) concluding that the release agreement was neither substantively nor procedurally unconscionable.

The court approached the question primarily by examining the release, the lift pass, and the resort’s signage, all of which conveyed the same basic idea: “If you ski here, you accept our terms.”

Although a minor can disaffirm a contract upon reaching majority, he can also choose to ratify it.  The court keyed into one particularly salient fact in finding ratification: plaintiff used his “season pass at least 119 times over the course of 26 days” after turning 18.  The court held that post-injury actions taken to disaffirm the contract were irrelevant, since the plaintiff had already availed himself of the benefit of the bargain.  Slip Op. at 10.  The facts of the case were important for another reason, the release was signed by plaintiff just two weeks shy of his 18th birthday, and the release was posted everywhere but the bathroom walls, it seems.  So the Court of Appeals limited its holding to factual situations where the minor is not of overly tender years, and where the release was not buried in one page of 5 point font boilerplate. 

The court went on to hold that recreational releases of negligence do not offend public policy, and that there was no “oppression or surprise” in the release that would be unconscionable.  Again, those holdings are largely limited to factual scenarios like those in the case.

Still, it’s a hard decision for the plaintiff here, if the ramp was in fact poorly maintained.  The plaintiff was an “advanced expert” skier, so presumably he could handle minor issues with the terrain.  Plus, the poor guy ended up paralyzed, so he really needs some sort of relief to have a decent quality of life.  While I can understand the Court’s decision, my heart goes out to the plaintiff here.  Even if they are not legally obligated to pay compensation, I would hope Bachelor does the right thing and agrees to help him, if there’s any indication at all that they messed up on the ramp.

While corporations are faceless, soulless, profit-seeking entities (not necessarily in a bad way, that’s just what they are), hopefully not everyone who runs them is the same. 

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