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. 

Stay Safe on the Road with 15-Passenger Van Safety

// Eric Spacek, JD, ARM on Thursday May 12, 2016

With summer quickly approaching, it’s time for your organization to start thinking about their summer road trips. Trying to plan a road trip with multiple people can be difficult to do.

Determining how many cars you will need, where you will get the cars from and who will drive them can be stressful. To help alleviate this frustration, many organizations turn to 15-passenger vans as their mode of transportation.

While using a 15-passenger van may sound like a great solution to transporting multiple people, they also can pose serious threats to your passengers. Compared to other vehicles, 15-Passenger vans have a high rollover rate. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration research shows this increased risk of rollover is due to inexperienced drivers, improperly sized and/or inflated tires and incorrectly loaded cargo and passengers that affect the center of gravity of the vehicle.
 
To help reduce the risk of rollovers, consider taking the following measures:

  • Tires – Buy high quality tires that are rated load range E with a tread depth greater than 1/8 inch. Remember, tires can degrade overtime. GuideOne recommends replacing 15-passanger van tires over five years of age. 
  • Gas – Keep the gas tank as full as possible at all times. 
  • Drivers – Only allow experienced drivers to operate your 15-passanger van. Require that they either have a Commercial Driver’s License or pass a defensive driving course. 
  • Passengers – When loading the van, fill the front seats first. Keep as much weight low and forward in the van as possible.
  • Extra Cargo – Never load items on the roof of the van. Fit all extra cargo inside the van or in a separate vehicle.
  • Seatbelts – Require all passengers and drivers to wear their seatbelts at all times.  

In addition, the Roadmaster Active Suspension (RAS) kit has been developed to improve the performance of vehicle suspension and handling while reducing the risk of rollovers in 10-, 12- and 15- passenger vans during emergency maneuver situations. These vans have leaf springs, which act as a suspension system to absorb any impact that may occur. RAS consists of two coil springs designed to assist the rear leaf springs with stability when increased load or weight shift is applied, such as in an emergency maneuver situation. When turning corners, RAS prevents the leaf springs from flattening out, thus preventing the van from rolling over. 

Independent handling tests on a Ford E-350 15-passenger van were carried out at the Transportation Research Center in Ohio to prove how effective Roadmaster Active Suspension is. Roadmaster reports that the tests showed that installing RAS on the vehicle helped make the van safer and less prone to rollover. 

Visit the Active Suspension website to learn more about the advantages of RAS and how it can help improve the safety of 10-, 12- and 15-passanger vans. GuideOne policyholders qualify to order this kit at a discounted price of $375 + $29.99 shipping. To place an order, please contact Roadmaster Active Suspension Head Office Sales, at 1-800-398-5036. Do not forget to mention that you are a GuideOne customer to get the special reduced price.

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.

Eric Spacek, JD, ARM

Eric Spacek, JD, ARM

Eric Space, JD, ARM is the Director of Risk Management and Loss Control at GuideOne Insurance in West Des Moines, Iowa.  Before joining GuideOne, he served as Minister of Operations for a large Methodist church in Raleigh, N.C., and was a liability litigation trial attorney in Washington, D.C.

Spring Break Mission Trip Travel Safety

// Natalie McCormick on Tuesday March 10, 2015

It’s arguably one of the best times of year.  Spring break!  It’s a chance for those of us in cold climates to thaw out by heading south or to just take a quick break from school or work.  For churches, spring break presents a great opportunity to participate in a mission trip.  While these trips are fun, valuable and spiritual experiences, it’s important to recognize the risks involved while traveling in or out of country.  Here are some ways you can prepare for those risks. 

Research & Plan – Prior to your trip, research the possible health risks, dangers and cultural norms of the location you’re headed to.  If you’ll be visiting a foreign country, look into any immunizations, laws or customs your group should be aware of.

Meet Up – Schedule group meetings prior to your departure.  Ask that your entire travel group attend, and brief them on what you’ve learned from your research and planning.  

Heed the Warnings – Take any travel warnings seriously.  There are many parts of the world that may be too dangerous for your ministry.  If there is an area that you want to help but has been deemed dangerous for travel, consider a form of outreach that doesn’t place your members at risk such as a special missions offering or item donation collection.  Important travel information can be found on the U.S. Department of State website

Develop Guidelines – By developing guidelines for your trip, you will help reduce the risks for trip participants.  Make sure all travelers and their families are aware of the trip rules and outcomes for not following them.  Here is a quick list of guidelines to consider when planning your trip:

  • Select requirements for travelers, such as age, health and experience;
  • Conduct background checks on traveling adults and determine their duties for the trip;
  • Decide what kinds of documents travelers must provide prior to the trip;
  • Designate a contact person, not on the trip, who will communicate between the church, the travelers and their family members;
  • Have each traveler receive a physical examination from their physician, including any needed immunizations and prescriptions, at least six weeks before the trip; and
  • Establish procedures for emergency situations.

Travel Safe – If your group is driving to the service destination, be sure to consider alternatives to 12 or 15 passenger vans.  Mini-buses or coach buses may provide a safer alternative.  License requirements, driving rules and customs can vary widely by country, so be prepared.  And just because you are out of the country does not mean relaxing safety rules, such as the use of seat belts.

Be Alert & Be Smart – While in an unfamiliar area be continuously aware of your surroundings.  

  • Note safe locations;
  • Never travel alone. There is safety in numbers;
  • Do not count or display money in public;
  • Use ATMs in banks or other secure locations and be aware of anyone watching you;
  • Do not wear or display expensive or expensive-looking jewelry;
  • Never leave your personal items or luggage unattended;
  • Don’t share personal, travel, or housing details with strangers; and
  • Trust your instincts.  If you feel uncomfortable, remove yourself and others from the situation. 

A mission trip should be a memorable and impactful experience.  To help you and the rest of your group enjoy your time, consider all of the risk factors when preparing for your trip.  Also, don’t forget to check with your insurance agent on Mission Trip Insurance, which could cover exposures like foreign travel liability and foreign auto liability. 

Sources: Travel Safety

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.

Natalie McCormick

Natalie McCormick

Natalie McCormick is the Marketing Coordinator for GuideOne Insurance where she manages the direct mail program and assists with content marketing. 

When she's not at work she enjoys playing volleyball as well as perusing the local farmer's market.  If you can't find her outside you may find her inside reading a good book or baking a new recipe.