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Do Injury Waivers Still Work for Martial Arts Accidents?

Listen to the interview with Jennifer Urmston of Sports and Fitness Insurance or read the transcript below.

John Graden: It's John Graden for the Martial Arts Teachers Association back with Jennifer Urmston from Sports and Fitness Insurance Corporation. Jennifer, we were talking before we came on air and you absolutely blew my mind so I couldn't wait to stop the presses and let our listeners know that Martial Arts injury waivers are not holding up like they used to.  Holy Cow!  Tell me about that.

Jennifer Urmston: Well we have had it made very clear to us by our carriers and across the Country the liability waivers that members and Students are required to sign for Martial Arts Studios and Schools are really not holding up in Court like we all think they should and hope they should.

It's just an unfortunate side effect of this, you know, society that we live in that people can sue for anything and they can claim that the Martial Arts School was negligent which nullifies a waiver and you're into a claim and you're into a law suit and you have to prove that you were not negligent and that costs money, so more than ever got to carry your Insurance, and not rely on those waivers.

John Graden: Yeah and I have sadly some experience in that regard.  What's happens in a scenario and it's not specially like this but if a family can convince an attorney to take the case, he will file the suit, you have to hire an attorney to defend that, so it may cost you fifty a hundred grand, just for the Judge to say 'Oh this is covered by the waiver, there's no liability here.' but you still out all that stress and all that money.

Jennifer Urmston: That's right, nothing can stop someone from filing a law suit and then the cost to defend the law suit, really starts around twenty thousand dollars and goes up from there and can be significantly higher like you said, so it is very, very important to have your Insurance, to make sure you've got the proper Insurance, so that your Insurance carrier is fighting that, a a claim like that for you and you know they have it, our Insurance Carriers have attorneys that specialize in our Industry and can hopefully get the claim settled before it ever goes to Court and runs up those kind of bills.

John Graden: Typically, initially there's some kind of mediation or motion or summary, judgement, that essentially goes to the Court and says this is invalid, it's covered by the waiver, this should be thrown out.  If you're lucky, it will get thrown out and you will only be out five or ten grand, but in many cases, it's going to go and he's going to, the Judge is going to want to hear the entire case and that means, you're into trials and pre-trails and...

Jennifer Urmston: And also, you’re paying your attorney by the hour to take depositions and you're paying a independent investigator to take photographs and interview and you know, even document that you did everything right.  That's why claims get expensive, because there's so much more to it, then people think of that initially.

An accident happens, what steps do an instructor, should an instructor take to protect themselves on the spot.?

John Graden: So, let's think about that for a second.  An accident happens, what steps do an instructor, should an instructor take to protect themselves on the spot.  Should every Instructor know first aid, should they get the I-Phone out and start interviewing and taking photos, what goes through the, the kid just, two kids are sparring, one gets hit in the head with the shin of the other Kid.  He went to kick him in the head with the pad of his foot, but he, the Kid ducked into it a little bit and the hard bone of his shin, smashed into his nose and eye orbit, off to the Hospital we go.  The accident just happened, what does the Instructor do?

Jennifer Urmston: Well it is absolutely correct for the Instructor to put the Child's welfare for the stand, provide First Aid and to get the Child the medical care as soon as possible.  Absolutely you always want to show that you did everything you could to take care of that Child and contact the Parents accordingly if they weren't there on site.

The next thing you do after that critical moment of getting the Child care has past is document everything that happened and that means your eye witness account as the Instructor, any other Adult that was present, their eye witness account, the names of the other Children that were present and you would want to go ahead and pull up the liability waivers that the Parent's signed and have them at hand.

When there isn't a piece of equipment involved, like a that broke or failed, or it didn't involve a slip and fall on a mat, there might not be anything to take pictures of, I mean obviously, the Child's injuries will be photographed at the Emergency Room, so those eye witness accounts are going to be important, that you were providing the proper instruction, you know the documentation of your sparring rules.  What they know that they're supposed to be doing every day when they're in class.

Those will, would be included with the copies of the waivers that the Kid's signed as you put together the information to pass along to the Insurance Claims Adjustor who's going to be assigned to the case and the way a case like that would typically unfold.

You know, most of the time, Claimants are looking for reimbursement of medical bills, unless there is some kind of more permanent damage, like there's going to be a permanent scare, permanent disfigurement and then that's the kind of thing that can get an attorney involved and asking for more significant amounts of money and all of your documentation will come into play.

John Graden:  I know that when, I owned a School and this is going back a few years, but I wasn't at the School I was out at a seminar or something across the Country and I called in and one of our Adult Green Belts had just had his Ankle shattered doing a self defense - we used to call it self defense, because this thing called one steps was just foolishness - anyway, he had to have eight different pins put into his ankle and could barely walk for six months and I was amazed that I never caught any heat for that, from that Guy.  I think it was more an indication of the times, particularly being a Guy we have that tough it out mindset, but those days I think are long gone.

Jennifer Urmston: Well we had a discussion about that, not long ago at all, sitting there with just those of us that are fitness devotees, those who really love working out and love training and love Teaching, you know that are very into being a Martial Artist or you know work out every day and are in to being fit, are the people that are least likely to file a claim if they do bust up their Ankle, tear a AC or blow out a shoulder when they're in the Studio, because they do this every day, they believe in what they are doing and they understand that accidents happen and that they have some responsibility for their own actions and their own decisions to push themselves a little harder and to be there in the first place.

But you, we actually kind of, you don't see claims from the folks that are there all the time that are into it, they will suck it up as you put it and take this on as their own responsibility. You know I've been working out my own life, I, you know, I know you, it's my own fault for falling of the treadmill, or it's my own fault for putting too much weight on the stack, or it's my own fault for striking my Ankle on the wrong way.

John Graden: I remember telling my Students very early and consistently pain is part of the training.  This is not ballet class.  I remember again hitting a target and I missed it and I hit the guy in the wrist, blasted it, he was an Engineer with NASA and he was a Hungarian Guy.  I said, “I a’m sorry”.  He said, “It's okay Sir, pain is part of the training.”  It was just like he had been programmed, it was perfect.

Jennifer Urmston: Well and I also believe that are society has become more litigious and also people's and yes, that's true and people's medical Insurance is not "as good", quote, unquote, they have higher out of pocket maximums and they have higher deductibles and you know, if they don't have the money in the bank, they've got to come looking for it, when ten or fifteen years ago, with lower deductibles, lower out of pocket maximums they might never have come looking for their medical bills to be paid.

John Graden: That is such a great point.  Deductibles are so high, that Insurance, health Insurance, really is becoming almost catastrophic Insurance because you have to pay so much just to the get to the point where it kicks in.

Jennifer Urmston: That's right and the cost of an MRI versus the cost of an X-Ray, how much can people come out of pocket, thousands of dollars versus hundreds of dollars, so these are the reasons, Insurance rates, you know,  have gone up and these are the reasons we have more law suits filed, is because it is less affordable to pay for big injuries yourself, so people come looking for, you know the other party, when they might not have in the past.

John Graden: So the final thing I want to ask you about in terms of waivers and we'll do this real briefly, but we're seeing a little bit of - Do It Yourself Insurance-  where they essentially provide you with all the forms that they would be filling out, but they have you fill it out instead, you submit it and you save a lot of money on the Insurance, but I think it's a bit of a role of the dice as to whether or not you're really going to be protected.

Jennifer Urmston: Do you mean with creating the waivers with online programs?

John Graden: The waivers and filling out the applications etc., there's some Insurances are putting it more and more on the Client, the insured I guess so to say, the more that they do and save time for the Insurance Company the lower the Insurance Company is going to charge, so less they're going to charge, so we're seeing some Do It Yourself Insurance programs out there and if this is not something that you are familiar with, we can certainly put this off to another time.

Jennifer Urmston: Well no I think what you're saying makes sense, you always, always, want to work with an Insurance programs that has a speciality in sports and fitness and martial arts, because all those different coverages that you need, your professional liability coverage, the medical payments coverage, not having an exclusion for athletic participants, those things that are specialized to what we do are going to be there on a policy from a program that specializes in this and they may not be there on the other programs, you have to be able to get a live person on the phone also and ask a question when you have one.

And so it’s important to work with a Company that, there may be an electronic application that's easy to use, but there's also a live human being that's is going to take a look at your application and call you with questions and that you'll have that person as your contact, to call as your agent and ask questions when you have questions and so Customer Service is important but primarily making sure you're working with an Insurance program that is specialized and tailored to what you do.

John Graden: Got it and I think what really brings this up is that we're seeing Companies that were you go on and you almost design your own waiver, digital waiver that gets submitted and approved and that's the way we are going to use, based upon our discussion, even waivers that are professionally designed by teams of attorneys still sometimes, don't hold up so, it's probably best to go ahead and spend a little bit more and make sure it's done right from the beginning.

Jennifer Urmston:  And make sure that you're keeping the documentation yourself, that you have it, that's right.

John Graden: In hard copy, in a safe.[Laughter]

John Graden: Jennifer thanks as always, I appreciate it and I know our members do as well.  Folks if you haven't visited Sports and Fitness Insurance Corporation check out the MATA credits for becoming a client under your MATA Membership.  I'm John Graden with Jennifer Urmston.  Talk to you soon.  Thanks.

Jennifer Urmston: Thank you, John.