Yoga teachers, Pilates instructors, fitness trainers... most everyone who works in the wellness space generally has some anxiety about liability and waivers. Especially today, in our "modern world": there are convoluted covid-19 related health regulations, we're dealing with virtual classrooms and online teaching, and what about "on-demand" videos that allow people to become your students without you ever meeting them at all? There's a lot of confusion and uncertainty.
Below, you'll find some basic information to help you navigate this topic draft your own liability waiver, whichever country you're in. The law can seem intimidating, but it's actually not that complicated.
However, before getting into things, here's our own disclaimer 😬:
The following information is not meant to be legal advice! If in doubt, do consult a lawyer.
What is a liability waiver?
In general, any "waiver" is simply an agreement wherein someone gives up ("waives") their option or right to do something. So a "liability waiver" means a person gives up their right to take legal action against you if they suffer harm in the course of taking your classes.
A good liability waiver (also called a "release") informs the client about all the activities they might be doing in your classes, and what the risks of these are. When your client signs or agrees, it means that they understand all the risks and voluntarily give up the option of suing you if they get harmed as a result of doing any of the activities in your class.
Do I really need this?
Liability waivers will almost certainly be required by your liability insurance. If you don't have such insurance (you should!), then the short answer is: no, just like you don't need to wear a seatbelt.
Don't have liability insurance? You probably should, it doesn't cost much. In the US, we really like the people at beYogi and so we've partnered with them: Ubindi users get a 20% discount (we don't get commissions).
But, just as with not wearing a seatbelt while driving, it's a little foolish not to have a waiver while teaching. You probably won't ever be faced with a lawsuit... but things do happen, and not just to other people. Sure, it's unlikely you'll crash your car into a tree tomorrow... but you still want to buckle up whenever you get into your car.
Unlike seatbelts, which only reduce the risk of death in a crash by about 45%, a good liability waiver will make it extremely unlikely that anyone could ever really threaten your livelihood, your business, and all of your assets in some kind of lawsuit.
In short, liability waivers are a no-brainer. On Ubindi, you can set up and activate a waiver with a single click, which ensures that anyone who registers for a class with you (or accesses your on-demand videos) will have waived their right to sue you.
Do I need a lawyer to draft a waiver?
Any smart lawyer will tell you: "yes, absolutely — you wouldn't try to fix your own car, would you?"
Naturally, they would say that... it's their business! But we all know that hiring a law firm can be pretty expensive, which is why most teachers create their own release form or liability waiver. And once you understand the basic ideas and requirements, it's really pretty easy to do it yourself.
Having said that, maybe you do want to involve a lawyer? If so, we recommend Conscious Counsel, a "heart leading" law firm that specializes in serving wellness businesses in North America, the UK, Australia, and many other countries.
We recently organized a webinar on the topic of liability waivers with Cory Sterling, founder of Conscious Counsel and author of the Yoga Law Book. So if you want to hear from an actual lawyer who's also entertaining and good at explaining things in a fun way, here's the recording:
Will a liability waiver protect me from any kind of lawsuit?
Um, no. If you do something really horrible, like angrily yank a student by the arm and in the process dislocate their shoulder... well then your waiver will not help you. Liability waivers are generally not enforceable in cases of intentional or reckless misconduct. "Gross negligence" is not covered by any waiver, no matter how well written it might be.
But if someone is injured, offended, or otherwise harmed in the course of taking your class after they have been clearly and honestly warned about the possible risks inherent to their participation, then you are quite safe.
Exactly how safe is a matter of how well the waiver is written and what's included in the document.
What should be in a liability waiver?
Here's the crux of this article — we are all unique and different. We teach different things in different styles to different kinds of people. So even if it seems like there should be some "standard", you really should have your own, personalized liability waiver. Don't just think "I'm a yoga teacher, so I just need basic liability language for yoga classes". Nope.
For example, some teachers rarely touch their students. But some do lots of hands-on adjustments... if that's you, you should definitely include specific language about that. Just imagine: what if someone tears something just at the moment you put your hand on their back? Or what if someone suddenly is convinced you touched them inappropriately?
Some coaches might want to warn their clients that a certain amount of emotional turmoil could be experienced in class. And high intensity aerobics class instructors will certainly want to include something about heart health and cardiovascular risks.
Again, we're all different. Luckily, there's a basic recipe for everyone!
Your waiver should
explicitly spell out all the different activities that a person might encounter in your classes
honestly describe what the possible risks are in these activities, even if a little farfetched
make the client aware of the possible consequences that accompany such risks
The basic idea is that you think through every single thing that could possibly happen in your classes, and describe each as specific items in a list. Will people be upside down? Could they hurt their neck? Is there some equipment that could fail? Could someone drop a weight on their foot? Slip on the floor? Whatever you can think of, put it in your list.
A waiver that spells out the individual risks or types of injuries that could happen in class is going to protect you very, very well when your client suffers an injury that you specifically warned them about in your waiver!
Should I ask students about pre-existing health conditions or injuries?
This is common in many release forms (many free waiver templates you can find online), but some legal experts say it’s best not to ask about these things in a form. Because once you get this kind of info, you're legally held to a higher "standard of care and consideration". So a better idea might be to put the responsibility back on your students by using your waiver to spell out contraindications, warnings, and details about what they can expect in your class.
But that's only the legal perspective. In the "real word", of course you want to encourage your students to tell you any- and everything that will help you to provide them with the best (and safest) class you possibly can, perhaps adapted to their particular body or background. So that's really up to you.
In the spirit of "keep it simple" (our #1 motto), the Ubindi waiverdoes not have a way for you to collect extra information from new clients. People simply read your waiver and then accept it. You can always ask new students for some extra info before they show up for their first class.
But if you feel you really do need a "deluxe" waiver where you can collect all sorts of info from new clients (and which is securely stored forever, along with a formal "digital signature"), we recommend WaiverSign. Used by thousands of wellness businesses of all shapes and sizes, we really like it because it handles everything you could possibly need in a waiver, while at the same time being simple, intuitive and easy to use. Like Ubindi! So we've partnered with them:
Looking for a more robust digital waiver solution? Ubindi users get 100 free monthly waivers on WaiverSign (we don't earn commissions). WaiverSign can help you not only collect and store signed liability waivers, but also other customer agreements and on-boarding documents.
What else should be in a liability waiver?
After you explain all the risks that a client might be exposed to, you just need to put a few key items at the bottom of your waiver, before the "I agree" button or signature field:
1. Acknowledgment & Voluntary Assumption of Risk
Your waiver should state that the client is aware of the risks as you've explained them, and that they voluntarily accept them.
2. Release Clause
Your waiver should state that you or your business don't carry the burden of liability in the event of harm. Your student needs to indicate they really understand what rights they're giving away, so be clear and direct with your language here.
3. Indemnification Clause
Optional, but you can also include a sentence which states that the client agrees that they will pay for your legal costs, too, if they decide they want to take you to court. This can further help to deter someone from even thinking about suing.
P.S. Don't worry (too much)
The most important things in life are all about the good stuff. What we do for a living is a big part of life, so think of the good stuff: sharing your passion and knowledge with others, making friends and forming connections in the process, helping others, etc.
Worrying about all the things that could go wrong at any given moment will drive anyone crazy. You could be hit by an asteroid tonight! Too much worry can produce paralyzing anxiety, prevent us from "doing", and generally cloud our perspective to the point where we can only see threats, danger, hostility everywhere. Not good!
With this in mind, Team Ubindi's overall views on the topic of liability waivers are the same as they are on most other topics: we do the best we can, and focus our energies on the important (i.e. good) stuff! Creating your waiver is a one time "just in case" task that doesn't have to be overwhelming. And actually, thinking through all the possible risks lurking in your class — it's a good thing to do, at least once anyway. It might even be a fun exercise. Enjoy it!
You can create a Policy or Waiver that you students have to accept before they can register for a class with you, or buy one of your video. It's optional, of course, and if you leave it empty, your students will not have to accept anything before ...