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You have to sign a COVID waiver to rent space in some York County municipalities' parks

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
Mount Wolf Community Park Thursday, August, 13, 2020. Mount Wolf Borough is requiring that all groups that reserve the pavilion or other area at the park sign an indemnification waiver in the event anyone contracts COVID-19 while attending. Bill Kalina photo

Several York County municipalities are starting to require COVID-19 waivers for park and pavilion rentals as fears of lawsuits escalate. 

Mount Wolf and Dover Township are among those that require waivers to be signed by renters who wish to use pavilion or park space for events. 

The Mount Wolf Borough Council unanimously approved the measure recently after discussing whether to allow the Northeastern Community Senior Center to host weekly events at the park pavilion.

Councilperson Eddie Kuntz said community groups should be able to hold events as long as the borough can avoid liability.

More:Fearing lawsuits, Mount Wolf requires COVID-19 waivers for park events

Similarly, Dover Township is requiring renters to sign a waiver agreeing to follow all state guidelines concerning the number of attendees, wearing masks, cleaning and social distancing, said Laurel Oswald, the township manager.

According to a copy of the Dover Township rental waiver obtained by The York Dispatch, the municipality doesn't clean or disinfect its buildings before or after use by a renter.

"Do not assume that a prior renter has cleaned and disinfected the building and contents," the waiver states. "Renters and guests assume the risk of possible infection when occupying a rented building."

Oswald said even prior to the COVID-19 situation the township's policy was for renters to sanitize the facility they use.

"Dover Township is trying to comply with the state and federal guidelines, and as such is requiring individuals to acknowledge the standard protocols that have been set by these agencies," Oswald added.

Liability waivers in the wake of COVID-19 are expected to gain heavy traction and become more widespread by government entities and organizations — although it doesn't mean it holds any legal significance in court, some legal experts say.

"The fact that a patron signs a liability waiver does not mean that the waiver would be enforced by a court," said John Lopatka, a professor at Penn State Law, via email. "Liability waivers are sometimes legally ineffectual. Courts hold them invalid."

Lopatka added that while municipalities have a certain level of "government immunity," it may not extend to personal injuries sustained on municipal property, such as contracting COVID-19.

However, to hold a municipality liable, the person would have to prove causation and negligence of the municipality, which can be difficult to prove in court, Lopatka added.

West Manchester Township Manager Kelly Kelch cited that exact reason as to why the municipality is not requiring liability waivers for park and pavilion rentals.

"We are concerned, but we're not more concerned than for our other structures too," Kelch said. "Someone has to prove that's where they caught it as well."

Kelch added that the township's COVID-19 exposure risk would affect all township structures and buildings — not just its parks and pavilions.

While liability forms won't be required to rent park or pavilion space, Kelch said preventative measures are in place, including keeping rented spaces sanitized and keeping the maximum occupancy under 25, which is the current state-mandated maximum for social gatherings.

Right now, York County Parks are also not requiring people to sign COVID-19 liability forms when renting pavilions, said county spokesperson Mark Walters.

Walters added that while the potential to require liability waivers is not being discussed at this time, "the county will continue discussions with legal."

Manchester Township has likewise not required liability forms for park and pavilion rentals.

However, the municipality does require COVID-19 forms for township-sponsored programming, such as its summer playground program, said Township Manager Tim James.

Although the forms have been created, most of Manchester Township's programming has been canceled because of the state-issued restrictions, James said.

While waivers might gain traction and be used more frequently by government entities and organizations, Lopatka said he predicts a net decrease in litigation due to a reduction in economic and social activity brought on by the pandemic.

"As waivers are used more extensively, cases will arise that attack their validity," Lopatka said. "If courts strike them down, entities are likely to use them less frequently."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.