COVID-19 Liability Waivers: Lawyers Explain What You Should Know Before Signing a Coronavirus Liability Waiver
July 24, 2020
Chances are you have signed a liability waiver in your lifetime – perhaps prior to participating in an extreme sport or joining a local gym. But odds are you have not been asked to sign one before going shopping, dining at a restaurant or getting a haircut. Until now.
As states gradually reopen, businesses, school districts and universities across the country are implementing mandatory coronavirus (COVID-19) liability waivers in an effort to insulate themselves from a potential onslaught of negligence lawsuits related to COVID-19 exposure. For example, a school district in South Carolina is requiring parents, as part of the student registration process, to sign an agreement that states:
By signing this agreement, I acknowledge the contagious nature of COVID-19 and voluntarily assume the risk that my children and I may be exposed to or infected by COVID-19 by attending and/or participating in sports-related activities in connections with the District’s schools … I understand and agree that this release includes my claims based on the actions, omissions, or negligence of the district, its employees, agents and representatives, whether a COVID-19 infection occurs before, during or after participation in any school-related activities.
“First and foremost, it’s important to remember that waiver or not, claiming injury is a one to one proposition,” says Jeffrey Kroll, Partner with Kaveny + Kroll Trial Lawyers in Chicago. “In other words, if you are affected by COVID through contact with a business or organization, the liability would only apply to you, not whomever else you would pass along the virus to.”
A school district in Missouri is requiring parents who want to their child to play a school sport to sign a similar waiver releasing the district and its employees and agents “from any and all … legal liabilities for” not only any “injuries” sustained by the child, but also “death.” Similarly, last month, the President of the United States’ reelection campaign required everyone attending a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to sign a waiver that stated: “By attending the Rally, you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19 and agree not to hold Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.; BOK Center; ASM Global; or any of their affiliates, directors, officers, employees, agents, contractors or volunteers liable for any illness or injury.”
The NFL is reportedly considering requiring fans to sign a similar waiver to attend games. Colleges across the country have asked student-athletes to sign COVID-19 liability waivers absolving the college of liability if the player contracts COVID-19 when they return to campus. Two United States Senators have introduced legislation to prohibit colleges from using this practice.
The increasing use of these waivers raises important questions for individuals about the nature, scope and effect of these waivers. Are they enforceable in court? If you sign one and then contract coronavirus due to the negligence of a business or school, would the waiver bar your claim for damages, or merely count as evidence against you – that is, evidence that you “assumed the risk” of contracting COVID-19? Because no court in the country has ruled on the enforceability of one of these waivers yet, answers to these questions remain undetermined. Nevertheless, here are some things you should know before signing one of these waivers:
What This Means for You
The bottom line is that you should not take COVID-19 liability waivers lightly. Treat them with the respect they deserve. If a business is asking you to sign one before letting you on its premises, understand you are not required to sign the waiver. It is your choice. At the same time, recognize that the business may deny you services.
Treat these waivers properly by taking the time to read them carefully. If a waiver clearly states the risks you are assuming and the rights you are relinquishing (such as the right to sue), understand it is possible that that waiver may be enforced by a court to bar any claim you might have otherwise brought against the other party to the agreement.
The information contained herein is not a substitute for legal advice. As specific questions arise, do not hesitate to contact us at Kaveny + Kroll Trial Lawyers, KavenyKroll.com.