Case Summary

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

follows:

Attorney

And, you know, you knew that someone such as Christopher Reeve had been

tragically injured falling off a horse?

Ms. Hamill

Yes.

Attorney

Did you personally know Mr. Reeve?

Ms. Hamill

Yes.

Attorney

And so you were aware that there were significant risks associated with

horseback riding?

Ms. Hamill

Yes.

Attorney

And you were aware that your daughter was going to be doing a significant

amount of horseback riding?

Ms. Hamill

Yes.

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.

(Emphasis Added.)

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)]