Summer has arrived and we all know what that means. It is mission trip season! Many, many youth and adult groups will participate in local, national, and international mission trips this summer. The youth groups at my local church participate in both national and international missions each summer. Their work assignments have included tearing off old roof shingles and replacing them with a new roof, painting walls, pouring cement for steps and sidewalks, and clearing weeds and underbrush. The youth have worked in the mountains of Kentucky and the villages of Costa Rica. I’m sure your groups have worked in many similar locations.
The question I am most often asked regarding these types of trips is, “Will a Waiver and Consent Form protect us from a lawsuit if a participant gets hurt on the trip?” The most honest answer is that if someone gets hurt and wants to file a lawsuit, a waiver form would probably not stop them but it might afford the church a measure of reduced liability for injuries. The most effective forms are actually those that I call Informed Consent forms. The Informed Consent form gives a clear explanation of the activities that will be included in the event and the dangers that may be involved. For example, if clearing underbrush is to be a part of the work, then the explanation should include a description of the tools that will be used. On the trip to Costa Rica last year, the form could easily have included a description of the bugs and snakes that were likely to be encountered! The Informed Consent form may also include a description of the skills necessary to perform the activities. By providing thorough and detailed information to the participant and parents, they are able to make a reasonable decision as to whether to participate or not. Another part of such a form should detail the training that has been provided to the participant in advance of the trip and a statement that the participant completed the training.
The importance of using Informed Consent forms is not that such forms prevent lawsuits. The importance is that these forms encourage all participants to reasonably consider the risks and liabilities for themselves and then make their own decisions about participation. At the very least, use of such forms will make it harder to participants who are injured to claim that they never knew the activities could be dangerous!
The second most frequently asked question is, “Would it be alright for us to create a Waiver and Consent Form that each youth and parent has to sign only once a year?” My answer is that such forms are virtually useless for the purpose of reducing the church’s liability. How can a youth or parent give reasonably informed consent in August for any and all activities the youth group may carry out when most of those activities haven’t even been planned yet? A much more prudent approach is to provide a detailed Informed Consent Form for each trip containing information specifically related to that trip.