How to Handle a Risky Business
Facts: Chelsea Hamill attended Camp Cheley for three years. Before attending
camp each summer her parents signed a liability/risk release form. In July 2004,
when Hamill was 15 years old, she fell off a Cheley horse and broke her arm.
Chelsea brought a negligence and gross negligence lawsuit against the summer
camp. Hamill’s mother testified at her deposition that she voluntarily signed the
release after having “skimmed” it. At her deposition, the mother testified as
And, you know, you knew that someone such as Christopher Reeve had been
tragically injured falling off a horse?
Did you personally know Mr. Reeve?
And so you were aware that there were significant risks associated with
And you were aware that your daughter was going to be doing a significant
amount of horseback riding?
Hamill’s mother’s interpretation of the release was that prospective negligent
claims were not waived. The camp disagreed. The release stated in part:
I, on behalf of myself and my child, hereby release and waive any claim of
liability against Cheley … occurring to my child while he/she
participates in any and all camp programs and activities.
I give my permission for my child to participate in all camp activities,
including those described above. I acknowledge and assume the risks
involved in these activities, and for any damages, illness, injury or death
… resulting from such risks for myself and my child.
Decision: Judgment for Camp Cheley. The release did not need to include an
exhaustive list of particularized injury scenarios to be effective. Hamill’s mother
had more than sufficient information to allow her to assess the extent of injury
possible in horseback riding and to make an “informed” decision before signing the
release. The mother was informed of the intent to release “all claims,” including
prospective negligence claims. While exculpatory agreements are not a bar to civil
liability for gross negligence, the record is devoid of evidence of gross negligence.
[Hamill v. Cheley Colorado Camps, Inc., 262 P.3d 945 (Colo. App. 2011)]