This is Part 2 of a series of posts where we will be sharing transcripts from our "Looking Forward" webinar featuring Legalease With the Ladies- powered by HopSkip.
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Any value in requiring attendees to sign a waiver?
Lisa Sommer Devlin: Let me jump in on that one first. There's potential value, but the thing that you need to understand is that waivers are extremely difficult to enforce. The law on preinjury waivers varies from state to state, which also makes it more complicated if you're having attendees coming from all over.
But in general with something of this nature or something that is an illness that someone could get as a result of being at your event, it's probably going to be very, very unlikely that you're going to be able to enforce that waiver now. Does that mean you shouldn't do it? Not necessarily, because sometimes just the fact that somebody has signed a waiver is enough to deter a claim. As Barbara said, anybody can see you anytime, for any reason, good or bad, and sometimes if they have agreed in advance that they aren't going to make a claim, it's enough to deter them.
The other thing you want to think about is the optics. Do you really want to have people coming either into your hotel or into your event to have to sign a document that says, "hey for coming here, you might get this disease and drop dead?"
So, you might not want to approach it that way. I think the more positive approach is requiring things like masks, distancing and vaccines. Barbara, what do you think?
Barbara Dunn: I agree with you, Lisa. A release and waiver is certainly not a complete shield toward liability for the reasons Lisa mentioned. I also agree with regards to the optics. One thing I've seen a lot of planners do is put in their registration materials , release and waiver type language essentially using a “default agreement” or “default consent”, meaning by registering for the meeting you’ve agreed to waive all claims, etc.
This isn't one of those things. This isn't like a photograph release where you say “by coming to the conference you agree to be photographed”. This is someone giving up their personal right, so that's going to have much higher scrutiny. That's going to need to be a separate document. A separate consent, if the group is going to do it. So, my feeling is either do it all the way or you don't do it. And that's really the key.
You know, when we look at other ways to manage the risk, as Lisa mentioned, there are lots of practical measures to make sure the problem doesn't happen. So, all the various efforts that the venues and hotels are doing, what the groups are doing relative to "if you're coming to the meeting, here are the rules of the road", and making sure that’s clear at the time someone registers for the conference. Now, ideally that might change, but it may be something that you think about and put into the registration materials as well.
Insurance. There is a lot of general liability insurance. Some of you call it “special event liability insurance” that covers the proverbial "slip and falls" at your events. Likely it wouldn't cover a claim against communicable disease. You need to check the policy to take a look at it, so groups are managing the risks along with the hotels in the venues, both on the practical side, with practical measures and then potentially with release and waiver documents.
But again, be careful on how you approach those, because I really do think that the benefits of having a potential release being enforceable is likely outweighed by the detriments of either not having them be enforceable or having the optics really work against a group. And I think this is going to be a particularly sensitive issue in the upcoming path forward- through this calendar year.
Going back to the vaccine piece for a moment, I personally think the best strategy is to encourage vaccines but not to require them, and that's just a short-term comment. But it is something to think about in the ways of being sensitive to all and being understanding to not only folks who don't want to take it, but to the inequities out there which might prevent folks from getting the vaccine by a certain point in time.
This post is a multi part series where we will be sharing the questions and answers that were originally generated from HopSkip's recent "Looking Forward Webinar" featuring Legalease With the Ladies. You can download the recorded webinar here.