Athletic Release Upheld in High School Death Case

In a case recently handled by this office in both trial and on appeal, an athletic release was upheld in a high school case involving the death of one student and personal injuries to two others. Prior to this case, there were significant questions as to the validity of such releases in an athletic context, with the opposing argument being that the enforcement of such releases would a void as against public policy.

In the case of Patel v. ABC Unified School District, cross-country track members and their coaches travelled to Mammoth to attend an annual summer cross-country program. The drivers consisted primarily of assistant coaches and parents. While returning from the camp, an assistant coach executed an improper lane change, striking the oncoming vehicle in a head-on collision. The driver of the other car and a student passenger were both killed and two other student passengers were badly injured, resulting in three consolidated student law suits.

The District contended in a motion for summary judgment relative to the students in the car that there was a fully executed transportation release that embraced the requisite unambiguous language to bar the law suit. The trial court agreed, dismissing the wrongful death action of the parents of the decedent and the two students who brought separate personal injury claims. The California Court of Appeal agreed, upholding the dismissal of the law suits based upon the validity of the transportation and athletic release.