Liability Waivers and Participation Rates in Youth Sports: An Empirical Investigation

51 Pages Posted: 3 Dec 2020

See all articles by Alfred C. Yen

Alfred C. Yen

Boston College - Law School

Matthew Gregas

Boston College

Date Written: November 30, 2020


This article explores whether there is empirical support for the assertion that enforcing liability waivers signed by parents increases participation in youth sports. To the authors' knowledge, it is the first and only article to do so.

This inquiry is critically relevant to a sharp split in contract law. Youth sports providers typically condition a minor’s participation on a signed parental waiver of the minor’s ability to sue for negligence. There are many reasons to doubt the enforceability of such releases. They are contracts of adhesion, their terms might be unconscionable, and they expose minors to increased risk of injury. Nevertheless, states do not consistently invalidate these releases. Of states that have explicitly considered the question, roughly one-third enforce youth sports releases, and they do so for a very specific reason, namely a professed belief that enforcing youth sports releases increases youth sports participation. Thus, if enforcing youth sports releases does not actually increase youth sports participation, then the primary reason given for doing so evaporates.

Our article searches for empirical evidence by statistically analyzing a database constructed from a fifty-state survey of the law covering 1988-2014, high school sports participation numbers reported by the National Federation of State High School Associations over the same years, data from the National Center for Education Statistics, and data from the United States Census. We found no statistically significant relationship between enforcing youth sports releases and increased participation in high school youth sports.

Keywords: empirical study of law, release, exculpatory agreement, sports, youth sports, sports law, torts, and contracts

Suggested Citation

Yen, Alfred Chueh-Chin and Gregas, Matthew, Liability Waivers and Participation Rates in Youth Sports: An Empirical Investigation (November 30, 2020). ASU Sports & Entertainment Law Journal, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2020, Boston College Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 543, Available at SSRN:

Alfred Chueh-Chin Yen (Contact Author)

Boston College - Law School ( email )

885 Centre Street
Newton, MA 02459-1163
United States
617-552-4395 (Phone)
617-552-2615 (Fax)

Matthew Gregas

Boston College ( email )

140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467
United States

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