A beginner student called by an instructor to participate in a sword demonstration instead got an accidental blade through the eye that pierced his skull and left him blind, paralyzed and brain-damaged, according to a $9 million lawsuit filed against the teacher and his school in Oregon.
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John Graden: There is such a huge increase in the number of people either offering a reality-based self-defense system like COBRA-Defense in addition to the martial arts program or I’m seeing lots of guys that are stepping away from their school or away from their current full-time job in the mainstream world and opening their own COBRA-Defense self-defense center where that becomes the central curriculum. And also guys that don’t have a facility and go out there and teach COBRA or reality self-defense in kind of a seminar by seminar basis if they need a place they’ll run out a rec center or a local dance school but they don’t have a real facility for themselves so this is a new dynamic reality of defenses somewhat separated because it is so different. What kind of insurance considerations should have an instructor investigate in choosing to do self-defense as either a primary or part-time extension of the business?
Jennifer Urmston: Well thank you for bringing the topic up because it is really important that we help these the self-defense instructors and or COBRA-Defense instructors have the right coverage for their business. So first of all, I think the word business is important. You know incorporating as a business in whatever form your accountant recommends is best for you is important to have a legal entity. That way when you are ready you’re leasing space or whether you’re having clients come into your own space and sign a waiver. There is a legal entity. You as the owner are covered just like a legal entity when you have an insurance policy. But it is important to have a legal entity when you start setting up a new business. If you’re incorporating that self-defense business into your existing martial arts school that can usually be written on the same policy that you already have for your school. Just you know let us know that you’re doing that and you know it is not going to increase the cost of your martial arts schools insurance significantly. Any changes to your operation you should let your insurance agent know especially if you’re incorporating under a different legal entities name for those who want to add that legal entity to your policy. So any time you have a change in your operations and you’re doing something really new in the martial arts school what your insurance agent know. And make sure there’s no issue with coverage and it or that needs to be added as a legal entity under your policy.
If you’re opening a COBRA defense facility then that will need to have its own coverage that will include the premises liability for the facility as well as the professional liability for teaching or self-defense classes in any other classes that you might teach inside that facility.
So that would, of course, need to be incorporated legally and you would need to have waivers for people coming into that facility and taking classes and you need the professional ability for your teachers.
If you are going out on your own and you’re renting a room at a hotel to have a conference or you’re going into a corporation to teach, or you’re going into a school to teach. That’s still a legal entity. If you don’t have a facility and you’re using other people’s premises, you’re probably going to be asked by the owner to provide proof that you have insurance.
You are still going to be asked to show proof of insurance even if you’re just renting space or utilizing space and other people facility. But that would just be professional liability insurance for you primarily when you’re using other people’s facilities.
You still need to have some insurance in case someone trips and falls or in case the facility asks you for the proof of insurance.
If they’re coming into your facility make sure they sign a waiver. Be sure to reach out to your insurance agent any time you had a new business or you’re changing the operations of your existing business to make sure you have coverage.
John Graden: As I see this there are three categories. We have the solo instructor who rents a facility when he needs it or he goes to offices and does on-site training. Then we have the person who is opening their own self-defense facility where that’s the central curriculum. The third is the add-on to the current martial arts school.
To recap what you said, for the add-on to the martial arts school self-defense probably is not going to change the premium but it’s important it’s written as into the coverage. Next, if you’re opening your own self-defense facility essentially that’s a whole new ballgame and that you have to get premise insurance for that facility and professional liability for the people. Then there is the solo instructor. If I’m a solo instructor and I call you guys up. How do you go about determining what levels of liability in maybe even what that premium might be?
Jennifer Urmston: For someone who does not have a premise but is teaching the self-defense courses in other people’s facilities, your primary exposure is your professional life as the teacher. It’s the same as someone who goes and gives lectures and teaches courses at anything from a trade show to corporations to schools. Your primary exposure is the professional liability for the things you’re saying. But when you’re renting out a room to use at someone else’s facility or a hotel that business is going to require you to show proof of insurance. Your insurance policy that covered you for your professional liability, that content, of what you’re teaching should also cover you for any premise exposure related to renting that room. But your premise’s exposure is going to be far less than owning your own facility where people are coming in and out of your own facility every day. So as a solo instructor without a premise that you should have a lower premium. Your premium for your professional liability is going to be based on how much money you’re making in that business. It’s going to be based on your revenue. So as a startup teaching one class here and one class where you’d be paying a lot less than if you were full time booked teaching in corporations, in schools, and renting out hotels for weekend conferences to teach. As your business grows your premium will grow with you. And it’s really the same way if you’re opening a new business if you’re opening a facility for your COBRA-Defense school, you’re going to have your premises exposure to start with when it’s your own school. But as your business grows the exposure for your professional liability of teaching those classes would grow.
I think the distinction to the martial arts world is that in martial arts schools the premiums are a little more geared towards how many people are in the school the number of students versus revenue that you just described for self-defense coverage.
The martial arts schools are very much rated based on how many students you’re teaching. That’s why you need to communicate to your agent that you’re going to start the self-defense classes but they’re not they are learning martial arts. They’re not doing the physical activity of martial arts school they’re going to bring in X amount of revenue. That’s not going to grow your premium as much as it would be bringing in many martial arts students. But again it’s important to make sure you communicated that to your agent because if you have started a martial arts program and you’re adding 50 new students to a martial arts program that’s different than bringing in 50 participants to a lecture you know on Sunday afternoons or on Monday evenings or whatever you decide to do the self-defense classes.
Just communicate to the agent so that when you come up for renewal you’re rated correctly.
John Graden: That’s good news for self-defense instructors because the difference is that in a martial arts school, the goal is to train the student for as long as possible and get them to sign for longer programs so that they can stay in the school and continue paying tuition forever and ever. However, in a self-defense program, much of the appeal is that it’s just a five-week program or a 10-week program or it’s a one hour class and then it’s over. So that’s a really good news for self-defense instructors.
What about concealed weapons self-defense coverage?
The issue with weapons is always around a real weapon versus a fake weapon. Martial arts schools are going to have exclusions on their policies for bringing in real weapons. A real gun should not come in the door of a school. You can use a fake gun or a fake sword, but you’re not going to use a live blade and you should not bring in a real gun to teach a self-defense class.
But it’s just kind of incentive for people to join and that includes that. But if you’re doing it in-house you know that consideration needs to be very clear to you.
I was at the Marriott Marquis in New York in front of a bunch of colleges a student activity representatives for about 70 to 80 schools. When we open up our active shooter seminar it starts with a paint gun machine gun that looks and sounds just like a real machine gun. And my wife screams. I fire off about 10 rounds from the gun just in the air from behind the group and the idea is to really startle them into questions like, “How many shots was that? How long did it take? Are the police here?” It’s a great way to open up the seminar. However, I had real concerns about doing this in Times Square. So I went to the event coordinator who put me in touch with security. They freaked out! They said, “We have SWAT throughout this building at all times. We have off-duty and on-duty police at all times. We have canine units at all times. We have undercover at all times. You have no idea the possibilities of what could happen if somebody interprets that as being a real gun and goes running down the hallway screaming.” So we had to improvise. But talk just a little bit about the idea of using a gun simulator like that. We typically will ask the audience to make sure that they do not have any concealed weapons. We don’t want somebody pulled a gun out and shoot me. What are the ramifications of starting with fake gunfire?
Jennifer Urmston: Well you could startle someone into having heart attack quite frankly. I mean you really would have some liability for starting an event like that. I mean you’re you’re going to be filling out an application for your insurance, you’ll telling them that there will be no real weapons.
If it startles someone into having a heart attack there would be a liability there. So you might have them in the waiver that they signed before coming to class say that we may simulate an attack. You want to get them to sign a waiver saying that they know this might occur.
Always make sure there’s not a real weapon and no projectiles but give people a chance to sign a waiver that they’re accepting what’s going to happen. And telling your facility this is going to happen at approximately such time to make sure they don’t call in the SWAT team.
John Graden: Great advice. You mentioned that you had talked to some of the COBRA owners and that you’re seeing an increase in self-defense.
Jennifer Urmston: We sure are. Absolutely. We are definitely seeing more self-self-defense specific training. It’s a newer trend still. We weren’t talking about it three years ago or four years ago. We certainly are talking about it now. So again, I always recommend a phone call or send an e-mail to inform your agent of any changes you’re making, such as COBRA. If you have a new business or any business idea, find out what your insurance cost is going to be and talk about what the coverage should be and just make a well-informed decision.
John Graden: If you’re going to call the agent, get him to confirm what you discuss in an e-mail back to you so you have it in writing. You want to make sure that there’s no question about any ambiguities in the coverage or what was actually described. Get that in writing by e-mail either the exchanges are done by e-mail or at least confirmation. “Here are that the five things you told me in our conversation”
It’s a record later of what you talked about you know. Whether it’s your business or you’re thinking about it for business, when you look back at it a month later and you come back to thinking about this new project, have it in writing it so that you can remember what was said to you. The last thing you want is to say, “I thought you said this was covered.”
Jennifer Urmston: The policy language is always going to trump whatever you’re talking about. But, if you want to make sure you’re clear about what you talk about. Especially if you’re planning to business now and it doesn’t really start for 120 days.
Also, if you think you’re going into someone else’s facility and you’ll probably need an insurance certificate.
John Graden: How does an instructor request an insurance certificate?
Jennifer Urmston: First, you have an insurance policy in place. First of all. So I have you know I have people that call all the time and say, “oh we’re teaching this class on Saturday.” And they don’t have a policy yet. So you have to fill out an application and get the quote accepted the quote and have the policy issued. And then if you have a policy in place we can issue certificates usually in 24 to 48 hours any time but you have to have the policy in place.
So if you’re going to rent a room at the Marriott Marquis to teach your class. You know they want a certificate showing them the name of your carrier, what your policy limits are and when your policies are effective. They’re going to want to be named as additional assured if you’re using their facility. And that’s all on one sheet of paper.
But in today’s world, it gets e-mailed. So it’s not a big deal to request one if you already have insurance. If you talk about insurance 90 days ago and never actually got it bound and then you all of a sudden need a certificate you can be in a tough spot. Also, there’s no additional charge for a certificate. You can teach at five different hotels between now and Christmas and get five different certificates and not have a charge.
Anyone working with the public, especially kids, must be careful when it comes to personal interactions. Children’s classes, fitness kickboxing, and self-defense all have their own potential liabilities. Here are three primary types of liability exposure common to all Martial Arts studios.
First up is premises liability. Premises liability relates to the facility itself and is primarily the responsibility of the studio owner. Real life occurrences of premises liability that can lead to claims include a slip and fall on the sidewalk or over electrical cords.
One of the most common insurance claims in any brick and mortar business is a wet floor. If someone slips and falls and claims the owner knew the floor was wet or didn’t take proper precautions to create a safe environment, it could lead to legal action.
The second liability is professional liability. This is where the vast majority of exposure exists for Martial Arts professionals. All of the school’s staff, instructors and assistant instructors are held accountable for the things that they say and do OR fail to say or do. This includes performing the actual teaching and instructing in a class or session, as well as the advice that they provide such as nutritional counseling. The most common form of professional liability claims occurs when a member or client is injured and alleges that the instructor failed to keep a safe environment or taught something that resulted in injury.
Board breaking poorly taught takedowns, and uncontrolled sparring are just a few of the potential circumstances for a professional liability action.
Finally, Martial Arts professionals have exposure for sexual abuse and molestation claims. Since the majority of students are minors, schools are open to claims of improper touching, overly familiar language or inappropriate comments. Dressing rooms where adults and children change clothes, sleepovers, and tournament trips are just the obvious examples of the potential for a claim.