Although yoga is an ancient healing practice, many yogis find out the hard way that it can also cause harm. And, if you are an instructor for long enough, odds are someone is eventually going to get injured in your class. Whether it was due to a pre-existing injury, an adjustment or your words of advice, your student got hurt.
And now you’re wondering who’s to blame.
Can your student hold you responsible? That all depends on how you reacted when the injury occurred and what systems — and insurance — you had in place before the incident took place.
To avoid legal liability, you should act accordingly.
Your Next 5 Steps of Action
If a student experiences an injury under your instruction, the following steps can help minimize your chances of getting dragged into a lawsuit.
1. Stay Calm
If a student does get injured during your class, take a moment to focus on your thoughts and emotions. Breathe — like a good yogi — and try not to panic. If you lose your nerve or let your emotions drive your reaction, you may be exposing yourself to more liability. Instead of overreacting, evaluate the situation, then decide how to move on from there.
Besides, if you start to panic, odds are, so will your injured student. And that’s the last thing you want.
2. Complete Safety Procedures and Necessary Reports
If the injury is severe, don’t hesitate to seek medical assistance. Make sure you have the student’s contact information. If you don’t, be sure to get it now. This information is valuable to have on hand when you go to notify your yoga insurance carrier, and will allow you to contact the student in the future if need be. It might also be smart to make a copy of the class sign-in sheet, so you know who was there to witness the injury.
3. Notify Your Liability Insurance Carrier
If your studio has robust liability insurance, your policy should cover you. That’s not to say you won’t be responsible, but you should have a safety net. Notify your carrier of the nature and details of the injury. If the carrier does not provide coverage for the class you teach — like aerial, acro or martial arts yoga — you must contact the company to purchase an endorsement.
4. Don’t Get Too Involved
Odds are, your student’s injury is not your fault. If you know what you’re doing, your adjustment did not physically sprain someone’s ankle or throw out their back. Injuries usually happen because of pre-existing conditions or a student falling or moving too deeply into a pose.
If a student does voice discomfort or pain, but doesn’t require any further attention, go home and write down the details of the incident, including when and what happened and your response. You may feel inclined to reach out to them and check up on how they’re feeling, but resist the urge to get too involved. Don’t bring up the injury every chance you get. If anything, you’ll worry the student even more.
5. Prevent a Future Lawsuit
There are many ways you, as a teacher, can protect yourself and the studio against possible lawsuits.
Many studios require students to sign a form of release before taking a class. However, the majority of these releases don’t offer protection for instructors because it doesn’t cover them. In cases like this, you want to make sure the studio owner changes the waiver to include teachers in the release.
The content of a waiver isn’t the only factor to consider. For it to hold up in court, the wording of the release should include proper legal terminology. So, writing a strong, enforceable waiver is worth the time and effort.
You should also inquire as to whether or not the studio offers insurance to teachers before ever instructing your first class. Through insurance, studio owners should be sure to cover all forms of yoga taught there, as well as all products used in practice.
Additionally, you can protect yourself by suggesting changes in policy and practice to prevent future incidents. Many teacher training courses don’t adequately cover safety procedures or address injury cases, so creating a training program may be useful.
So, Are You Liable?
Each country and state has different rules and regulations about filing a personal injury lawsuit. In most cases, the time, location and nature of the event will all have major roles in determining whether or not your student can hold you liable.
And, as previously mentioned, insurance coverage and even your reaction to the injury will play a part in determining your liability as well. So keep a level head and, most importantly, read all the fine print.