Margaret J Radin talks Boilerplates in op-ed in the Los Angeles Times

Boilerplate coverWhether it is a one time practice or a weekly scheduled session, gymnastic facilities have participants sign a boilerplate that relieves the gym and all their personnel of all responsibility if you get hurt while there. At a gym near my hometown, a friend of mine dislocated her elbow after an instructor did not properly spot her while she tried a new gymnastics trick. Needless to say, the gym manager at the time handed her a phone to call her mother, then wiped his hands of the situation and it was on to the next class.

In a recent op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Margaret Jane Radin discusses how a boilerplate to attend a birthday party at a gymnastics facility forced her niece to sign that the gym was not responsible if her three year old were to sustain any injuries. Radin discusses what boilerplates mean for our legal rights in her book Boilerplate. Boilerplates are the paperwork or its electronic equivalent that must be signed in order to use the service or product. What exactly are you signing away when you sign or click “I accept”?

Read part of the op-ed below.

Blackmailed by the fine print

Boilerplate is more than just an annoyance. It threatens democracy and the rule of law.

My niece, the mother of a 3-year-old, told me she felt blackmailed: In order for her child to attend a birthday party at a gymnastics facility for young children, she had to sign a form that included this:

“The undersigned agrees to defend, indemnify, and hold harmless [this facility], its officers, managers, members, employees, servants, agents and coaches/instructors and their successors and assigns from and against all legal liability, claims, suits, damages, losses, and expenses, including attorneys’ fees, threatened or incurred, and arising from the child’s participation, or from any cause whatsoever.”

Forms like this are called boilerplate because they are delivered to us on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. If my niece signed this one, she would relieve the gym of legal liability if her child were harmed at the party. And should she try to challenge the “hold harmless” form, she would be responsible for the facility’s legal expenses if she lost.

Lawyers know (but non-lawyers probably don’t) that such forms may be found to be legally overreaching if the matter ever reaches a court; no business or individual can “contract out” of reckless or grossly negligent or intentionally harmful behavior. When such questions do reach a judge, however, courts in many states will excuse mere negligence, such as a failure to screen employees or maintain equipment or premises properly.

Read the FULL op-ed here.