Does a Parent Hosting a Birthday Party Have Authority to Sign a Waiver on Behalf of Other Parents?
Docket No. A-3519-19
Decided May 12, 2021
Submitted by New Jersey Personal Injury Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent published decision the Appellate Division reviewed whether a parent hosting a party at Sky Zone had apparent authority to sign a waiver on behalf of other parents dropping off their children for the party.
In Gayles, Joan Tongol invited several friends of her minor son to celebrate his birthday at Sky Zone Trampoline Park in Mount Olive, operated by defendant Go Ahead and Jump 3, LLC. Tongol told the children’s parents that she had reserved time for a group of ten, and the parents could drop their children off with Tongol, who would drive them to the trampoline park. On the day of the party, plaintiff Gwendolyn Gayles drove her son Justin, also a minor, to the Tongol home. Justin and Tongol’s son had been classmates since grade school.
Tongol had booked the reservation online. On arrival at Sky Zone, after she checked in and paid for the group, Tongol was directed to a “waiver station,” where she had to complete and sign an agreement (the Agreement) displayed on a computer screen. In a section, “Included Minors,” Tongol listed every child with his or her birthdate, which she obtained by asking the children. At her deposition, Tongol described the process as “quick,” and she completed the Agreement without reading it fully and without any assistance from defendant’s staff.
The agreement contained an agreement to arbitrate personal injury claims. None of the children’s parents had executed a power of attorney in favor of Tongol, but she believed they had authorized her to sign the Agreement on behalf of the children. While playing on the trampolines, Justin fractured his leg.
Plaintiff filed complaint and defendant added Tongol as a third party defendant, alleging Tongol had apparent authority to sign the waivers on behalf of plaintiff. The Court denied defendant’s summary judgment motion of the issue and defendant appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed, agreeing with the trial court that Tongol lacked apparent authority, as there was no expressive conduct on account of the principal – plaintiff – to indicate that Tongol had authority to act on behalf of plaintiff. Therefore, the case would continue, rather than go to arbitration.
Arbitration is an alternative path to resolution for a personal injury matter. It is out of court, however it is structured similarly to court with rules that mirror court in some aspects. Sometimes, arbitration can be a faster process. If there is an agreement for binding arbitration, once the arbitrator decides the issues, it will most likely be upheld like a court order. Trying to vacate an arbitration award can be as difficult as changing a court order.
Injured plaintiff may have a disadvantage in arbitration. If you have been injured and have questions about the differences of arbitration and court for your personal injury matter, contact our experienced attorneys at Hark & Hark today.
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