Details Matter: What You Need to Know About Liability Release Forms

// Brian Gleason on Tuesday September 26, 2017

Your organization likely sponsors a variety of exciting activities, including trips. Ensure full participation and minimal risk in all of your activities by having each participant sign a carefully worded assumption of risk and release of liability. If you fail to fully disclose the potential risks of your activity, you expose your organization to potential litigation.

Cara Munn was a student at a private school that sponsored a study abroad trip to China. As part of the process of signing up for the trip, her parents signed a release of liability form outlining the details of the trip, including what to bring and what to expect while traveling to China. However, the release form did not outline all of the potential risks, specifically the fact that the group would be travelling to a more remote area of the country with limited access to medical services, and that participants would be exposed to insect-borne illnesses.

The group was hiking in a forested area in northwest China when Cara was bit by an infected tick and contracted tick-borne encephalitis, a disease with life-changing symptoms.

A federal jury determined that the school was negligent in not specifically listing insect-borne illness as one of the risks of the trip. The school appealed, but the Connecticut Supreme Court supported the jury’s decision.  The court was clear that the school had a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect students under their care from foreseeable harms. Traveling to China does not create an exception to this duty. As a result of its negligence, the school was found liable for more than $41 million in damages.

While incidents like this are rare, the consequences are severe for everyone involved. Here are several important takeaways from this ruling to help protect your organization:

Make sure every participant has a completed release of liability form. Make sure that parents have signed on behalf of any minors, and that all participants are covered by a release. It’s easy to overlook a participant or to assume that they signed a release in the past, but it’s vital to thoroughly double check that everyone coming through the door, getting on the bus or boarding a plane has appropriate paperwork.

Make sure the release is specific to the event. Planning excursions can be exhausting, but this is not the time to take the easy road and cover every event with one big blanket release. It’s nearly impossible to cover the details of the specific event’s risk in a blanket release. The assumption of risk should detail all the possible risks of the event including travel, athletic participation, weather, etc.

Make sure the release is reviewed by legal counsel. Laws related to effective releases are different in each state. Work with your legal counsel to develop a template document that can be used to outline the risk associated with each activity and that has appropriate language releasing your organization from liability.

Make sure releases are part of a document retention program. The statute of limitations can be extensive when it comes to the types of claims brought on by activities, and it does no good to have a signed release if you cannot produce it during discovery. Get advice from your legal counsel on how long you need to retain signed releases, and store these releases in a secure, yet easily accessible place.

This material is for information only and is not intended to provide legal or professional advice. You are encouraged to consult with your own attorney or other expert consultants for a professional opinion specific to your situation. This information is only a general description of the available coverages and is not a contract. In an effort to keep your policy coverage affordable, the actual policy contains certain limitations and exclusion. Please refer to your insurance policy for the pertinent contract language and coverages. Some coverages and discounts are not available in all states. GuideOne welcomes all applications, without regard to religion, race, color, national origin, sex, handicap or familial status.

Brian Gleason

Brian Gleason

Brian Gleason is the Senior Risk Manager for Education at GuideOne Insurance, providing resources and consulting services to GuideOne clients in the education niche. Prior to his career at GuideOne, Brian spent twenty years in risk management for a Christian university in California. Brian has his MBA along with years of experience in insurance, enterprise risk management, occupational health and safety and emergency preparedness and response. 

5 Risks Directors and Officers Face

// Ashley Varland on Tuesday June 7, 2016

Directors and officers play prominent roles within many nonprofits’ management or leadership structure – they are appointed or elected to effectively unify, run and operate the organization. With their roles comes a lot of responsibility – and personal liability risk.

To avoid being blindsided by costly claims, it’s important to be aware of the top sources of directors’ and officers’ claims:

  1. Employment Practices
    Like any other organization, management is held responsible for appropriate and law-abiding employment practices. In a nonprofit, directors and officers are responsible for avoiding wrongdoing or issues regarding employment, as well as any human resources-related concerns. Failure to comply with this important element of the organization could be costly for a nonprofit and its directors or officers.
     
  2. Servicing Beneficiaries
    A nonprofit works for one or multiple causes and helps service individuals, groups or subjects in the community that are in need. As an officer or director, there is a duty owed to the organization and its cause. Failure to perform this duty or appropriately service beneficiaries could lead to trouble for nonprofit leaders if a claim is made against the organization. 
     
  3. Outside Relationships
    Nonprofits often work with other organizations, such as vendors, funders or partner nonprofits. These relationships should be handled with care, as these organizations may allege injury caused by the nonprofit. While a good relationship will not always prevent an allegation or claim, it encourages compromise and teamwork when handling issues between the two parties.
     
  4. Handling of Gifts and Donations
    Working on behalf of a cause in the community will often present opportunities for groups, individuals and other supporters to give gifts or donations to the nonprofit. It is the responsibility of directors and officers to use these gifts and donations as intended. Any misuse could lead to a suit against the organization and its leaders.
     
  5. Not Following State and Federal Laws and Regulations
    All nonprofits and its leaders must comply with state and federal laws and regulations. This includes following the requirements of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Department of Labor. Failure to do so could result in legal action against the nonprofit and its directors and officers. 

Strong insurance coverage is another way to protect your organization from the unexpected. General liability coverage for a nonprofit organization may not be enough to protect directors and officers. Your organization can purchase Directors and Officers Liability Coverage as an additional endorsement offered on GuideOne Insurance policies. This endorsement offers protection from:

  • Rising court costs as a result of negligence, conflict of interest and misrepresentation lawsuits;
  • Increasing litigation, as grounds for bring law suits is expanding;
  • Decreasing volunteers, as individuals are not willing to risk personal losses to serve the organization after a suit has been filed; and
  • Changing attitudes in the courts, as the legal doctrine of charitable immunity is typically no longer recognized. 

Consider the risks directors and officers face, and look into additional insurance coverages to ensure adequate protection. Contact your local GuideOne agent to learn more.


Sources: Nonprofit Risk Management Center and the GuideOne Nonprofit E-book, coming later this fall

This material is for information only and is not intended to provide legal or professional advice. You are encouraged to consult with your own attorney or other expert consultants for a professional opinion specific to your situation. This information is only a general description of the available coverages and is not a contract. In an effort to keep your policy coverage affordable, the actual policy contains certain limitations and exclusion. Please refer to your insurance policy for the pertinent contract language and coverages. Some coverages and discounts are not available in all states. GuideOne welcomes all applications, without regard to religion, race, color, national origin, sex, handicap or familial status.

Ashley Varland

Ashley Varland

Ashley Varland is the Western Region Education Underwriter for GuideOne’s Education niche. GuideOne offers comprehensive education insurance for classrooms of nearly any kind, including K-12 schools, charter schools, colleges, universities and seminaries. GuideOne helps you guard against loss and liability while you focus on what matters most – your students. For additional information, visit GuideOne's Education Insurance site.

Handling a Church Liability Claim

// Troy Spoonemore on Thursday March 3, 2016

Think of a time you were responsible for someone other than yourself. Now imagine you’re with that person and something unexpected happens. These types of things happen all the time; it’s inevitable. And when accidents occur, it can be a scary time for both the injured party and those in charge. When this happens in a church setting and the injured party files a claim against the church, it’s called a liability claim.

Liability is a legal term for fault. A liability claim is a demand for money to compensate someone for his or her injuries or damages. Oftentimes, these claims are presented by the injured or damaged party to the potential party at fault in the form of a lawsuit. An organization (church) is responsible for such injuries if they are proven negligent.

Example: Jane enters a church building and slips on the floor leading to the stairway. Jane lands on her hip and is unable to walk for an extended period of time. She believes the church is at fault and wants compensation for her injuries. Jane is advised by her attorney to file a liability claim against the church. Jane’s legal counsel must prove the church was responsible, or negligent, in order to receive compensation.

Outcome: In this example, the floor upon entering the building was wet from the winter weather, and there were no “wet floor” signs or other means of communication warning members as they entered. The church was negligent in providing proper care to its attendees and may be required to compensate Jane for her damages.

The example above is one of the most common liability claims churches face. What happens when this, or any, type of claim is filed against your church? Before you react, consider the tips below. 

  1. Make no admissions of liability – Do not acknowledge or deny responsibility when an accident occurs. Tell the injured party that your church will report the incident to its insurance company, and the insurance company will contact them directly. This avoids taking responsibility for something that may not be your fault.
  2. Gather all relevant facts – Record names and contact information for all parties involved, or who may have information on what occurred (especially witnesses). Immediately take photos of the scene of the incident, if applicable. Lastly, complete an incident report to record the event.
  3. Leave the scene untouched – Ensure the area is properly blocked off and left alone until you have spoken with an adjuster.
  4. Secure equipment – Any items or equipment involved in the accident should be placed in a locked area once you have spoken with your adjuster and kept there until they can be inspected (ladders, chairs, etc.).
  5. Report the loss – Immediately report the incident to your church’s insurance company and/or agent.
    • If the claim involves issues that are potentially criminal in nature (allegations of physical or sexual abuse), immediately report it to the proper authorities.
    • If the claim involves minors, be sure to avoid disclosing names or details to other parties.

It’s easy to overreact and try to solve the situation that just occurred. Oftentimes, the most common mistake a church makes in these incidents is admitting liability. Just because someone initially says they are not injured or aren’t filing a claim, doesn’t mean they won’t change their mind at some point in the future. As a church leader, be sure to document all accident-related information and report it immediately.

Church liability claims can prove to be very costly to settle. As a church facility that is liable for more than just the building itself, it’s important to take precautionary measures and be proactive in loss prevention. 

This material is for information only and is not intended to provide legal or professional advice. You are encouraged to consult with your own attorney or other expert consultants for a professional opinion specific to your situation. This information is only a general description of the available coverages and is not a contract. In an effort to keep your policy coverage affordable, the actual policy contains certain limitations and exclusion. Please refer to your insurance policy for the pertinent contract language and coverages. Some coverages and discounts are not available in all states. GuideOne welcomes all applications, without regard to religion, race, color, national origin, sex, handicap or familial status.

Troy Spoonemore

Troy Spoonemore

Troy Spoonemore is the Director of Claims Development at GuideOne Insurance. He directs and oversees strategic development and transformation initiatives. He has worked in the insurance industry for 25 years, spending 17 years with GuideOne.

Infographic: What are the chances I'll use auto insurance?

// Ellen Wade on Saturday August 30, 2014

Did you know that there are more than 10 million auto accidents each year? Or that 75% of all costs associated with an accident are paid by those not directly involved in the accident? If you are an uncovered or undercovered driver, there are many reasons you should reconsider your auto insurance protection.

What are the chances you'll need auto insurance? Check out our handy infographic for some stats that may surprise you. (Click to enlarge.)

If you're inspired to learn more about how auto insurance can help you, we would be happy to discuss your options. It's fast. It's free. And it's no obligation. Give us a call at 1-888-748-4326 or visit www.GuideOneIsWithYou.com.

This material is for information only and is not intended to provide legal or professional advice. You are encouraged to consult with your own attorney or other expert consultants for a professional opinion specific to your situation. This information is only a general description of the available coverages and is not a contract. In an effort to keep your policy coverage affordable, the actual policy contains certain limitations and exclusion. Please refer to your insurance policy for the pertinent contract language and coverages. Some coverages and discounts are not available in all states. GuideOne welcomes all applications, without regard to religion, race, color, national origin, sex, handicap or familial status.

Ellen Wade

Ellen Wade

Ellen Wade is a Marketing Specialist for GuideOne Insurance, focusing on content marketing and social media.

In her free time, she enjoys running, biking, reading and exploring new cities.