A New Jersey company cannot enforce an arbitration provision in an agreement signed by a 15-year-old minor who misrepresented his age to gain access to its commercial trampoline park.
The Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division held that the arbitration provision is not enforceable because even though the minor misrepresented his age, the company did not review the minor’s signed agreement before letting him in the park. Had it done so, the company would have discovered the misrepresentations.
With its ruling, the appeals court reversed the lower court with instruction that the teen’s injury claims can be litigated in the Law Division. It also affirmed its own prior rulings on minor’s rights and arbitration contracts.
When Jacob Matullo signed the Sky Zone Trampoline Park contract to be allowed to use a trampoline, he signed in with a birthdate of July 4, 1998, (making him 19 years old) as the legal guardian. On the same agreement, he also signed with the same name as a minor with a birthdate of July 4, 2004, or 15 years old. The agreement requires persons to be 18 years old to sign on their own, or an adult must sign for them. It also requires that any claims be addressed through arbitration, not litigation.
In December 2020, Matullo filed a complaint in the Law Division alleging that he had been severely injured while participating in jumping activities at the trampoline park in 2017.
Sky Zone argued that the claim should go to arbitration and Matullo should not be allowed to avoid the agreement because he lied about his age by representing that he was 19 years old. The lower court agreed.
A company in New Jersey has the right to enforce an arbitration clause against someone who lies about his or her age. However, it must prove three conditions to do so: the minor misrepresented that he or she was an adult; the company reasonably relied on the misrepresentation; and the minor received and retained the benefit of the contract.
Here, two of the conditions were met. Matullo lied about his age and he used the trampoline so he received the benefit of the contract in his use of the trampoline, even though he claims he was injured in doing so.
However, the judges found that the company did not rely upon Matullo’s misrepresentation before letting him use the trampoline. In fact, the judges offered that Sky Zone employees did not even look at the form or they would have seen that the same person used two different birthdates.
“Anyone reviewing that information would have had to question its accuracy,” the court stated, adding that there were “obvious questions” as to the authority of the 19-year-old to waive the rights of the 15-year-old. The use of the same name and the listing of birthdays on the same month and day and four years apart should have raised even more questions, the court added.
“Sky Zone could not have reasonably relied on one sentence in which plaintiff misrepresented his age when in the next sentence he disclosed his age.”
The court remanded the case to the Law Division, not arbitration.
The judges noted that this ruling is consistent with prior rulings including one in which the court held that arbitration provisions are not enforceable if the adult signing on behalf of the child does not have the authority to waive a minor’s right to go to court.
Topics New Jersey
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