This article explores whether there is empirical support for the assertion that enforcing liability waivers signed by parents increases participation in youth sports. To the authors’ knowledge, it is the first and only article to do so.
This inquiry is critically relevant to a sharp split in contract law. Youth sports providers typically condition a minor’s participation on a signed parental waiver of the minor’s ability to sue for negligence. There are many reasons to doubt the enforceability of such releases. They are contracts of adhesion, their terms might be unconscionable, and they expose minors to increased risk of injury. Nevertheless, states do not consistently invalidate these releases. Of states that have explicitly considered the question, roughly one-third enforce youth sports releases, and they do so for a very specific reason, namely a professed belief that enforcing youth sports releases increases youth sports participation. Thus, if enforcing youth sports releases does not actually increase youth sports participation, then the primary reason given for doing so evaporates.
Our article searches for empirical evidence by statistically analyzing a database constructed from a fifty-state survey of the law covering 1988-2014, high school sports participation numbers reported by the National Federation of State High School Associations over the same years, data from the National Center for Education Statistics, and data from the United States Census. We found no statistically significant relationship between enforcing youth sports releases and increased participation in high school youth sports.
Yen, Alfred Chueh-Chin and Gregas, Matthew, Liability Waivers and Participation Rates in Youth Sports: An Empirical Investigation (November 30, 2020). ASU Sports and Entertainment Law Journal, volume 10, no 1, 2020, Boston College Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No 543.