MINNEAPOLIS -- As businesses reopen amid a slew of safety and cleaning requirements, many are asking something new of their customers and employees: a promise not to sue if they get sick.
Liability waivers have long been used for risky endeavors such as downhill skiing or youth sports. But in the unchartered legal waters of the coronavirus pandemic, people now find themselves signing such forms when they get their hair cut, nails painted and teeth cleaned.
"It's a whole new world," said Matt Murphy, an attorney with Nilan Johnson Lewis in Minneapolis. "Everybody's freaked out."
With no specific legal protections at the federal or state level, businesses see the waivers as an extra layer of protection from potential lawsuits, even though it's not yet clear whether such waivers will hold up in court.
"When people think of liability waivers, they think they're weighing risks that are particular to that activity," Murphy said. "COVID isn't an inherent risk of anything. It's an inherent risk of life now. But there are activities that will increase that risk."
Kim Martinez, artistic director at a youth dance company in Falcon Heights, Minn., recently drew up a three-page, single-spaced liability waiver specifically addressing potential exposure young dancers might have to the coronavirus. It supplements an existing general injury and risk waiver.
"We haven't had any pushback whatsoever," said Martinez, who restarted classes on July 1 at Out on a Limb Dance Theater Company and School.
Participants agree not to sue the nonprofit or anyone affiliated with it should they contract COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
They also are required to stay away from the studios if they or their children have symptoms or a confirmed case of COVID-19, or if they've traveled to a high-risk location identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"People understand you cannot eliminate the risk," Martinez said. "But you can do everything you can to mitigate it."