The best defense is having a good defense ready. If an attorney has to contact you to find out what happened in an accident eight months ago, and you are vague because you can’t quite remember, that won’t help your case much. If the attorney asks who else saw it, and you don’t know, and if the attorney needs to know what was done at the scene, and you don’t recall, then your case will be very difficult to prove.
The other side may have medical records, statements taken immediately following the accident, and pictures of the injury. You need to have your evidence as well. For most minor incidents — bumps and bruises — such detail will be unnecessary. When something serious happens, then you should put together a complete file on the incident.
Consider yourself your own private investigator. Be careful to collect only “objective” facts, though. That means treating facts without distortion by personal feelings or prejudices. You don’t want to be accused of using your position as the instructor to badger your students into lying, embellishing or shading the facts.
Take note of what happened, who was around, what was done about it and by whom, and an account of the events and possible contributing causes. This will serve as a reminder to you since memory can be inexact. It may be months before you have to give a “deposition” (testimony), and years may go by before a trial. If you rely on your ability to remember a two-year-old event, then you can expect to be expertly tripped up by a skilled attorney on cross-examination.
If you have a good martial arts insurance policy, then your insurance company should take care of your legal defense. If you do not have martial arts school insurance, then you should already have an attorney in mind to work on any case you might have. It might be a student, or a parent of a student, who understands martial arts and has some experience litigating.
Once you receive a lawsuit, your attorney typically has 30 days to file papers with the Court. If you spend 20 of those 30 days hunting for a decent attorney, then your attorney does not have adequate time to prepare your defense.
At times, attorney’s have received case files the day before paperwork is due, and they have to rush on paperwork that can determine if you win or lose your case. Cases have practically been forced to settle for more money than the case was worth because the attorney wasn’t given the Summons and Complaint in time to prepare the necessary paperwork.
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When shopping for martial arts insurance, ask the following questions:
- What is the annual premium? If you teach part time, find out if there are part time premium rates.
- If you own a martial arts studio, does the policy cover the entire studio or just you as a martial arts teacher?
- Does the policy cover martial arts teachers-in-training such as Leadership Team members?
- Does the policy cover your employees?
- Does the policy cover independent contractors working at your martial arts studio?
- What is the maximum amount of coverage per claim?
- What is aggregate annual claim coverage?
- Are you, as a martial arts teacher, covered outside the country where you teach? This could be relevant if you teach seminars or at a conference, etc.
- Is there a maximum number of students per class that you can teach? If so, how many and can you get additional coverage (if you class size exceeds the stipulated number of students)
- Does the martial arts insurance policy cover your style of martial arts? What if you host an event at your studio where other types of martial arts are practiced? Be very specific about this inquiry. Sometimes, aerial, tricking, and acrobatic martial arts styles are excluded. The point is to ensure all your services and classes are covered.
- Is the use of martial arts equipment covered?
- Specifically, does the martial arts insurance policy cover:
- Professional liability?
- Advertising liability (libel, slander, copyright infringement, etc.)?
- Personal injury liability?
- Product liability?
- Premises liability?
- Property damage?
- Sexual harassment / abuse / assault (if covered, usually coverage amounts are lower).
- What is the deductible amount, if any?
- Does the martial arts insurance policy include payment for legal fees if a lawsuit ensues?
- How soon must you report a claim? Know the answer because some insurance policies may breach you and therefore not cover you if you delay too long in reporting a claim. Typically you must report as soon as you suspect there may be a claim.
- Are there any notable exclusions? Read the exclusions section of the policy carefully.