Law School Case Brief
Sharon v. City of Newton - 437 Mass. 99, 769 N.E.2d 738 (2002)
Massachusetts law favors the enforcement of releases. A party may, by agreement, allocate risk and exempt itself from liability that it might subsequently incur as a result of its own negligence. There can be no doubt that under the law of Massachusetts in the absence of fraud a person may make a valid contract exempting himself from any liability to another which he may in the future incur as a result of his negligence or that of his agents or employees acting on his behalf. Whether such contracts be called releases, covenants not to sue, or indemnification agreements, they represent a practice Massachusetts courts have long found acceptable.
On November 8, 1995, 16-year old Merav Sharon was injured while participating in a cheerleading practice at Newton North High School. Merav fell from a teammate's shoulders while rehearsing a pyramid formation cheer and sustained a serious compound fracture to her left arm that required surgery. At the time of her injury, Merav had had four seasons of cheerleading experience at the high school level.
On November 5, 1998, having reached the age of majority, Merav filed suit against the city of Newton, alleging negligence (Count I) and the negligent hiring and retention of the cheerleading coach (Count II). The city filed its answer on December 24, 1998. In late October, 1999, during the course of discovery, the city came across a document entitled "Parental Consent, Release from Liability and Indemnity Agreement" signed by Merav and her father in August, 1995, approximately three months prior to the injury. The city filed a motion for summary judgment raising the signed release as a defense. Merav filed an opposition to the city's motion for summary judgment in which she argued that, because the release had not been raised as an affirmative defense in the city's answer, it should be deemed waived. The Middlesex Superior Court Department (Massachusetts) granted summary judgment in favor of the city. Merav appealed.
Was the release signed by Merav’s father for the purpose of permitting her to engage in public school extra-curricular sports activities valid?
The state supreme court concluded that Merav’s father had the authority to bind her to an exculpatory release that was a proper condition of her voluntary participation in extracurricular sports activities offered by the city. Both Merav and her father had ample opportunity to read and understand the release before signing it, and they were therefore deemed to have understood it. Merav’s participation in the city's extracurricular activity of cheerleading was neither compelled nor essential, and the public policy of the commonwealth was not offended by requiring a release as a prerequisite to that participation. The enforcement of the release was consistent with the commonwealth's policy of encouraging athletic programs for youth and did not contravene the responsibility that schools had to protect their students. The benefit bargained for, Merav’s participation in the cheerleading program, was adequate consideration for the release.
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