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What You Should Know Before Signing a COVID-19 Liability Waiver

Close up of Businesswoman signing contract on table in office. Business Deal concept
By Ashley Ravid on June 29, 2020 2:40 PM

As more businesses begin to open up amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, some companies or administrators may require employees returning to some level of in-person work to sign a coronavirus liability waiver. Here's why you may be asked to sign one, and what it means for you and others.

What Is a Liability Waiver?

Waivers are a way for one party to ensure that the other knows and acknowledges the risks of participating in certain activities or undertaking particular practices. One of the main purposes of a waiver is to provide a company, business, government, or individual some level of protection against potential lawsuits for injuries or harm, because waivers provide proof that an individual acknowledged and accepted whatever risks they may face by taking certain actions.

For example, an intern at a chimp sanctuary who lost a finger when a chimp bit it off was prevented by the Oregon Court of Appeals from suing her workplace for damages because she previously signed an injury waiver. Because the waiver acknowledged the possible risks posed to her and waived her right to sue for potential injuries, she was unable to take legal action against the chimp sanctuary.

A coronavirus waiver may mean that you waive your right to claim damages or take legal action if you catch COVID-19 on the job, at school, and more.

Who May Have to Sign a Waiver?

While the full scope of what role COVID-19 waivers may play in the future of business is still unclear, here are some examples of groups of people who may be asked to sign waivers soon:

  • Athletes returning to work, including student athletes
  • Customers at businesses like salons
  • Students
  • Employees of various businesses

While there are no guarantees yet of who will be expected to sign COVID-19 liability waivers, some states are already discussing the legality and permissible scope of these waivers.

What Does Signing This Waiver Really Mean?

The exact details and stipulations of the liability waivers will vary, meaning that it is hard to determine exactly what each waiver will entail. A lawyer can help you navigate your options and risks if you have questions about signing a waiver.

The enforceability and permissible scope of liability waivers also varies by state. Time magazine reports that "In 45 states and the District of Columbia, courts will generally enforce voluntary waivers ... Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Virginia, and Wisconsin offer consumers the best chance to challenge liability waivers." Online research can help you better understand the laws of your state.

Government officials like Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, have spoken out against the use of COVID-19 liability release waivers. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, announced his intention to introduce the RALLIES Act, which would limit the acceptable situations in which such liability waivers could be used and enforced.

Because of the unique nature of pandemic release waivers, some questions surrounding their enforcement and legality have yet to be answered, such as whether lawsuits can be filed by people who contract the virus from someone who waived their right to bring suit. Despite the uncertainty of the developing situation, you can help protect yourself and your rights by thoroughly reading and understanding the terms of the COVID-19 liability waiver if you are asked to sign one, and by staying updated on the legality of such release waivers.

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