The question of whether or not to purchase liability insurance arises for yoga teachers across the board—not only teachers in yoga studios, gyms, and sports settings, but also those teaching as volunteers in schools, hospitals, or other organizations. Many yoga teachers and studios purchase insurance to cover liability risks related to student injuries. In fact, many studios, gyms, and other facilities actually require yoga teachers to obtain such insurance as a condition of employment.
Even if facilities carry general liability and umbrella insurance, however, yoga teachers are wise to investigate the policies closely. Yoga teachers can benefit from enacting their own policies, in case the studio’s policy contains restrictions or exclusions that leave the teacher unprotected.
But a central question arises for the many yoga teachers who are trained in both yoga teaching and a licensed health care modality, such as medicine, psychology, physical therapy, massage therapy, acupuncture, or chiropractic. Does professional liability insurance for one of these vocations cover yoga teaching as well?
The first thing to remember is that every health care profession operates under different laws. Physicians generally are legally authorized to diagnose and treat disease. Non-physicians, whether within conventional health care or complementary and alternative medicine, typically have a more limited scope of practice—such as counseling (psychologists) or addressing vertebral alignment (chiropractors). The scope of practice for a given provider can be defined more broadly or more restrictively, depending on the state.
In general, then, when investigating liability insurance, trained providers who are also yoga teachers must be mindful of what their licensure allows and the extent to which their existing insurance policies cover (or potentially exclude) their yoga teaching activities. As a rule of thumb, a yoga teacher should take care not to rely on an organization’s assurance of coverage. It would be unusual for a standard policy, insuring a medical, mental health, chiropractic, or massage therapy practice against professional liability, to explicitly include yoga therapy.
Recently, a Yoga Journal reader inquired, “I am a pediatric physical therapist and yoga instructor for typical children and children with special needs. If I have malpractice insurance as a P.T and practice yoga with a client and/or use yoga as a treatment modality within a P.T. session, do I need separate yoga insurance, or will I be covered under my P.T. insurance?”
The honest answer is that insurance policies are densely written nests of information. If you are a dually trained practitioner with questions about what your malpractice insurance covers, it’s best to direct your queries directly to your insurance company, with a request for reply in writing. That written reply should clarify whether a particular modality—such as yoga therapy—is covered within the policy’s coverage for the broader, professional health care practice—such as physical therapy. If the insurance company writes back and declines to confirm coverage, then you have a definitive answer and know that purchasing an additional policy for yoga teaching may be wise. On the other hand, if the insurer confirms coverage in writing, this may be usable evidence should the insurer later try to deny a claim based on the argument that the policy does not cover yoga teaching.
It's also fair to say that, in comparison to malpractice premiums for a profession such as medicine, yoga insurance is relatively inexpensive. Depending on the context and the insurer’s written response, it might make sense to add a separate line of coverage for yoga teaching to any existing professional liability insurance.
When trying to find viable insurance companies and policies, sometimes a call to your national professional organization can help. In case of disputes with an insurer, written documentation is critical. And there is no substitute for contacting an attorney should the insurance company’s response pose unexpected difficulties. Over time, as more and more dually trained practitioners seek insurance for yoga teaching, the market should adjust to meet the demand for sensible policies that operate in both the world of licensed health care practices and in the world of yoga teaching.
Michael H. Cohen, J.D., teaches at Harvard Medical School and publishes the Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog (www.camlawblog.com).
The materials in this article have been prepared by Michael H. Cohen, J.D., and Yoga Journal for informational purposes only and are not legal opinion or advice. Online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional legal counsel.