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Have you ever wondered whether you should ask your students to sign a liability waiver? Ideally, it should be a routine part of registering a new student, says Jessica Passman, Of Counsel at Michael H Cohen Law Group. In the following Q&A, Passman explains why yoga teachers need liability waivers, what kind of protection they offer, the key elements a good liability waiver should have, plus other ways that teachers and studios can reduce their potential liability exposure.
Yoga Journal: Why do yoga teachers need liability waivers?
Jessica Passman: As with any physical activity, students can get injured doing yoga. It is important to have each student sign a liability waiver for many reasons beyond the obvious potential release of liability, such as: (1) putting the student on notice of the risks associated with yoga; (2) allowing prospective students the opportunity to consider their health and whether yoga is right for them; (3) providing any additional details about the class that may be unknown; and (4) creating a written contractual relationship with each student. A liability waiver gives the yoga teacher/studio the opportunity to establish a clear understanding of the activity, associated risks, and relationship with the student.
YJ: What's the difference between a liability waiver and a consent form?
JP: While you can employ two separate forms, typically, the two concepts will be combined into one document. A consent form or provision could cover simple participation and/or specific details of the class, such as consenting to being touched, whereas a waiver of liability could potentially release a teacher from liability related to her touch. For example, it is very common for a yoga teacher to touch students to assist in proper alignment. Imagine a teacher assists someone deeper into a pose and the person is injured as a result. Legal language that covers both consent and liability would be suggested to cover this scenario.
YJ: Does signing a liability waiver mean that a student cannot sue the teacher or studio? Does it mean that if they do sue, they won't win the lawsuit?
JP: Signing a liability waiver does not prevent a student from commencing legal action. However, it can help deter litigation. Also, if legal action is commenced, the court will look to the terms of the liability waiver as it is a contract between the parties. Accordingly, the terms of the agreement are very important.
YJ: What are the key elements that a good liability waiver for a yoga teacher or studio should have?
JP: The key elements for a good liability waiver would be to clearly provide: (1) details of the class and/or program; (2) any warnings regarding who should not participate; and (3) legal liability release and consent language that complies with applicable state law.
YJ: Are there any downsides to asking students to sign liability waivers?
JP: While some prospective students may be turned off by having to sign a liability waiver, being required to sign one is standard.
YJ: How should yoga teachers and studios go about obtaining signed liability waivers?
JP: I would suggest that the registration process include the signing of a liability waiver. When a person creates an account or otherwise becomes a member, she could sign the liability waiver, which would then be kept as part of her account.
YJ: In addition to liability waivers, are there any other ways for teachers and studios to reduce potential liability exposure?
JP: Absolutely! Here are three:
- Continuing education: Teachers should continue to learn and grow as teachers. The more you know about the body, injuries, and yoga, the more effective you can be as a teacher.
- Know your students: Getting to know your students and their limitations is beneficial in terms of preventing injuries and growing your business via the deepening of the teacher/student relationship. A form that asks about the prospective student’s health, prior injuries, and goals can be made part of the registration process. Further, simply beginning each class by asking if anyone has any injuries can assist in injury prevention. Knowing your students will allow you to provide a customized yoga experience and potentially limit liability.
- Insurance: General liability insurance is highly suggested. Increased liability coverage via waivers and insurance should relieve stress and allow you to focus on your teaching.
This article is not and does not provide legal advice or opinion, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship between the author or the Michael H Cohen Law Group and the reader. Anyone interested in consent forms and waivers should consult an attorney for legal advice relevant to their situation.