Parents today are faced with a myriad of options for developing discipline and physical health in their children at a young age, and one of those options that is increasing in popularity is Martial Arts instruction, including the traditional arts as well as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. As a Martial Arts studio owner, you will want to consider the use of liability waivers in protecting your organization and to recognize both the benefits and the susceptibilities involved in legal liability.
Most Martial Arts instruction involves close contact with others, which means that these sports are often considered riskier for the participant than individual sports. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the most common injuries associated with Martial Arts include:
These injuries most often affect the knees, ankles, shoulders, elbows, and particularly the hands (www.orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/staying-healthy/martial-arts-injury-prevention). Participants should be made aware of the risks in learning and performing Martial Arts before signing the waiver, and that is where the disclaimer becomes a valuable resource.
As a business owner, you will want to be aware of the differences between a disclaimer and a waiver, as they each serve an important purpose in your protection. A disclaimer is a statement or document intended to limit the responsibility or legal liability of a company, organization, or person (www.dictionary.com). An example of this would be a copyright disclaimer on a website for its content. A disclaimer may also be used to provide notification of the risks associated with the organization's activities. This allows the individual to make an informed decision about participation for themselves or a minor child. Some organizations require a signature on the disclaimer but that is typically left to the business owner's discretion. For sample forms and ideas on setting up your customized disclaimer, you can reach out to your local agent, and they will likely have resources and tools for you to utilize.
Although a disclaimer addresses the risks associated with activities, a waiver is an express or written statement of relinquishment of the participant's right or interest to the other party. These documents require signatures, and your school should maintain the records for future reference in the event of an injury. Many sports-related activities require a participation agreement or liability waiver that stipulates the parent's acknowledgment of the risk and a release of liability that agrees to not seek restitution from the business owner for any injuries received during the activities. Some documents include both the disclaimer and waiver language, but you will want to be sure to include an acknowledgment of risks associated with Martial-Arts activities as well as the waiver of liability for the school. Any waiver should not be considered an “iron-clad” protection but should be looked at as one layer of legal relief (www.businessinsurance.com). Even in maintaining waivers, you should be aware that if your organization or its representatives such as instructors and or staff are found to be legally negligent for a participant’s injury, the business will be on the hook for any damages due to those injuries. In other words, there are no waivers to protect against obvious legal liability due to negligence.
With the onset of COVID-19, there is also a recent addition to the liability waiver in maintaining a form for the student/parent to recognize the risks associated with gathering for classes and close contact with other students. This waiver relieves the gym owner of liability related to Covid exposure and/or contamination that causes illness. The ultimate legal viability of these waivers remains to be seen and will most likely only be recognized in the courts in future cases that involve the protection of business. Some states are looking at legislating liability relief for business owners. Arkansas and Louisiana have already issued Executive Orders relieving businesses from any legal liability due to COVID- related illness. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the COVID waivers attorneys caution business owners that the waiver should not be a license to act with carelessness. Business owners are still legally responsible for maintaining protective measures with participants and have an obligation to protect the public.
Whether you are a first-time Martial Arts business owner or considering re-opening after the pandemic, don't forget to reach out to your local agent to determine your level of risk and the best ways to insure against any losses related to legal liability from injuries. As a specialized sport, you will want to look for coverage that is specific to Martial Arts business formats. Your agent can provide valuable insight into resources available to start-up businesses and online forms that are available to you for use. At Loomis Insurance, we have agency staff that is waiting to answer your questions and help in finding solutions for your insurance needs. Give us a call today!