Can A Non-Parent Bind A Child To Arbitration?
Most people know that minors can’t sign contracts on their behalf that are legally binding. Rather, they need to have parents or legal guardians sign agreements for them. That’s why many businesses will have parents or guardians sign hold harmless agreements, which often also contain provisions that waive the right to go to court, and compel the victim to go to arbitration.
Those arbitration clauses signed by parents on behalf of the kids are usually enforceable (although they can be challenged). But what happens when an adult signs or agrees to an arbitration clause on behalf of a minor, but the adult is not the parent or legal guardian?
When Does the Situation Happen?
This situation happens more than you may think. Imagine a parent taking their child, and their child’s 2 friends to a trampoline park, an amusement park, or somewhere else where arbitration clauses are common. Many of the kids’ parents are not there. The one parent present, signs the arbitration clause on behalf of the other kids. Is the arbitration clause enforceable, since that one adult was not a parent of some of the kids?
Law Requires a Parent
Many courts have said no, citing language in Florida law that requires a “parent” to sign—not just any adult that happens to be watching over the child at the time. Additionally, before a court will even ask whether a non-parent has the authority to sign, the court will ask if there is even an enforceable arbitration agreement in the first place.
The Apparent Authority Defense
Many businesses argue what is known as “apparent authority.” This is a legal theory where someone holds themselves out as having the power or authority to bind someone else to a contract or agreement.
In the personal injury context, apparent authority means that the adult is holding him or herself out to be the child’s parent, the business has no way of knowing otherwise, and as such, under apparent authority, the arbitration clause should or could be legally binding. However, as of right now, there are not many cases that have ruled on this issue.
As of now however, that issue has not been tested in the context of arbitration agreements that bind minors to arbitration. To avoid this problem, many arbitration agreements may have language where the signing adult agrees that he or she is a parent or else, that he or she has authority to bind the child to arbitration.
But if the agreement does not say that, and a non-parent signs the agreement, there is still an argument that the case cannot be arbitrated, thus giving the injured child his or her day in court to recover for her injuries.
Has a child in your family been injured because of someone else’s negligence? Contact the Tampa personal injury lawyers at Barbas Nunez Sanders Butler & Hovsepian for help today. Schedule a consultation today.