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Maria Tolentino Goldstein

Minors, Care and Liability Issues

Question

I was going to put this on the Q & A forum originally, but I wasn't sure if it belonged there, so I'm putting it here.

On the Q&A forum, I read the thread on bringing children to the Con. I would have wanted to post an additional question, but the topic was locked. The last reply was that to the poster's knowledge, Otakon has never had a permission slip for bringing children who are not the adult's; however, while Otakon does not have such a form, a prior thread (under twelve con-goers, from 2006) contained a post that mentioned the need for a permission slip for the 'guardian' (I would also consider that the chaperoning adult). Now, in light of last month's case in Hawaii in which a parent was ordered to pay $690,000 to the parents and the estate of a cheerleader who died (she was chaperone to the cheerleaders), will additional details be added to the policies on children concerning liability issues? While the permission slip provides the chaperone/guardian the ability to make any legal decisions for the minor while that minor is in the adult's care, the Hawaii case somehow makes it clear to anyone acting as a chaperone or maybe even a 'guardian' to a minor during a trip that that person is not just responsible for the child, but is also liable should anything happen to the child (just as the chaperone was found to be partially responsible for the girl's death. And the irony in that case is that the dead girl was 18. I believe the involvement of alcohol might have played a part there because even if you have reached the age of majority at 18, you are still not allowed to purchase alcohol until you are 21, right?).

Example: When I took my son to Sukkot at Hersheypark, he decided to meet up with his friend (the friend's mother was also there, but she had two other kids [her own, younger than my son's friend] with her, so my son's friend separated from them and went with us) and they went together on the rides. When they got to the Stormrunner coaster, my son told me to just sit on a certain bench and wait for them. Unfortunately, it seemed like the lines were not moving. Since I did not see the boys in any of the rides as one followed the other, I started getting nervous and thinking that the boys might have fooled me and gone to another area of the amusement park. I started to panic, thinking that something would happen to the boys and that I would be accountable to the other boy's mother (and this occurred several months before the Hawaii decision!). Fortunately for me, I eventually saw the boys on the ride.

Originally, I was planning to have a friend of my son come with us; however, I started to think about those liability issues and now, especially with the Hawaii decision, there is the likelihood of being sued if anything happens to a minor child that you are responsible for (who is not your child). It's like you should come up with an agreement with the other child's parents that contained a hold harmless clause.

Another example: If you announce the availability of a room and a minor is one of the paid roommates, who makes the decisions for that minor should anything happen?

In the post that mentioned the permission slip (in the under-twelve con-goers), one of the purposes listed was that Otakon cannot accept the legal responsibility to make any decisions on how to handle things if something happened to that minor (so the guardian/chaperone, with the permission slip stating that the guardian/chaperone is allowed to make decisions for that minor while the minor is in the guardian's/chaperone's care, becomes the contact person for any decisions that have to be made for the minor, should anything happen). Would this liability issue also come up as a detail in the Con's policies concerning children? I believe that now parents and those who have reached the age of majority (who have minors with them) should be given a warning that for as long as a minor (who is not related to them) is under their care, not only are they responsible for that minor but they are also accountable, which includes, but is not limited to, being sued by the minor's parents if anything happens to the minor. A trip does not have to be a school trip for an adult to be responsible/accountable for what happens to a minor in his/her care.

I had to bring this up, since there are parents and individuals who have reached the age of majority who may be bringing minor children with them. If the minors are their siblings, that's fine, since they just have to answer to their parents; however, if the minors are not related to them, they have to answer to the minors' parents if anything happens to those minors. Somehow, I believe that it's better for each minor to travel with a parent and then to meet up with his/her friends. At least, the parents are around and can easily be reached if anything happens. Unfortunately, that is not the case, since some will not be traveling with their parents.

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all liability is the responsbilty of the parent and the parent alone. if the subject child is a minor and they get hurt because of their own actions and/or cause destruction, the parent of that subject child should foot the bill. otakon already covered their butt as far as liabilty for themselves, as far as individual non-con staff liabilty, thats something the courts can argue all day about. but its really the responsbilty of the parents to watch their own kids, if they want to send them to the con and not watch them or leave them in the care of someone else, thats their choice and their choice alone, they must be ready to deal with the consequences.

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Do you have a citation? Is it a Fed case or a state case? "Hawaii case" doesn't really help me to understand whatever gravity the case may have. If possible, I'd like to read the decision to form my own opinion!

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It's a pretty safe place to bring your kids -- though of course we very much encourage the whole family to come. The forums and FAQ are filled with tips, such as arranging meeting times, exchanging cel numbers, and having backup plans.

The reality is that it is not practical for us to collect and maintain permission slips and proof of age for every kid who shows up -- teens don't need parental permission forms to go to the mall, after all, or to a theme park. I'd say that MOST teens nowadays have a cel phone, or someone in their group does. And there are plenty of responsible, surprisingly mature kids who come to our con, and plenty of adults looking out for them. And plenty of kids who are wise enough to stay in groups and look out for each other.

If you are chaperoning someone else's kids, it's wise to have a note granting you temporary guardian status, so you can make emergency decisions. I think we used to d this when I was a kid and we'd go on vacation with other friends' parents. But that also makes you legally responsible for them while they're under your care.

For *young* children, we insist on putting contact information on the back of the kid's badge in case they get separated from parents. And we require that children who get the free kids' badge be accompanied by their adult at all times.

A moment's search on google located a free temp guardianship form (scroll down past the ads):

http://www.free-legal-document.com/free-te...nship-form.html

As for the Hawaii case, it boggles the mind how a school chaperone could bear full responsibility for an 18-year-old -- a legal adult -- who snuck out on her own. The chaperone cannot be there 24-7 and the victim was an adult. But the specifics aren't clear from the few articles I found, and I'm not a lawyer. There may be specifics based on the location (different laws in different jurisdictions), the "school trip" factor, or any legal permissions and agreements in place.

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If you are chaperoning someone else's kids, it's wise to have a note granting you temporary guardian status, so you can make emergency decisions. I think we used to d this when I was a kid and we'd go on vacation with other friends' parents. But that also makes you legally responsible for them while they're under your care.

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For *young* children, we insist on putting contact information on the back of the kid's badge in case they get separated from parents.

I think that's a good tip for anyone. I'm 18, and have been going to Otakon since I was 11 or 12, and I always put my contact info on the back of my badge. That's just like having an In Case of Emergency card in your wallet - just a good thing to have for anyone.

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