Waivers, the Misunderstood Risk Management Tool
At this time of year we move into the season where equestrians start thinking about the office work they may have neglected through the busy summer riding season! For equestrian clubs, coaches and facility owners, waivers are among one of the many items of concern to address. Do all riders and participants need to sign a waiver? Do I have to have them sign a new one every year? What should be included in my waiver?
While your insurance broker is here to guide you through the risk management process it is important to understand that your lawyer is your best resource for legal advice, and a waiver is a legal document. From a risk management perspective there are two important things to understand about waivers that are commonly misconceived. Waivers are not meaningless! The intent of a waiver is to be able to provide documented proof that a participant has acknowledged the risk associated with that activity, for example climbing on the back of a 1200lb animal. A signed waiver can be used as supporting documentation in a Court of Law to help prove that the participant knew that there was risk of injury.
The second item that is important to understand is that waivers do not prevent someone from pursuing legal action against you. It is commonly misconceived that if someone has signed a waiver, insurance is not necessary. You cannot sign yourself out of your own negligence. If someone is injured and feels that you are responsible for their injuries, they have right to pursue legal action against you. This however does not mean that the waiver can’t be used to help defend you in providing evidence that the participant understood the danger involved in the activity.
It is recommended that all clients sign waivers and are well informed of the risks involved with equestrian activities. Additional risk management measures can also include posting your club, or barn and arena safety rules, and ensuring that your students are properly equipped with riding boots, long pants and certified helmets to minimize their risk of injury.
Finally it is recommended that you have your clients sign updated waivers each year. This ensures that new clients are not missed, paperwork is up to date, and gives you the opportunity to ensure your waiver does not require any revisions if your operations have changed. The key to a good waiver is to consult a legal professional to ensure it adequately covers the scope of your activities whether you are boarding, coaching, running horse shows or riding camps as legal counsel might have different recommendations for each activity.