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Why You SHOULD NOT Sign a COVID-19 Waiver From Your College or University

Colleges and universities are asking students, faculty, and employees to sign COVID-19 waivers in order to escape liability for any illnesses or injuries that occurs on campuses this fall. In a July 2 op-ed for the Hartford Courant, Georgetown law professor Heidi Li Feldman issues a strong warning to students, faculty and staff about a legal loophole that schools are trying to exploit: "Under no circumstances should anyone sign a waiver for harms and losses inflicted by COVID-19 cases caused by their college's policies."

Some colleges and universities are making the short-sighted and profit-driven decision to allow students back on campus this fall in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Feldman's op-ed arises in response to reports that many colleges and universities are either asking or requiring students, faculty, and staff to sign waivers absolving the colleges of their duty of care and legal responsibility. Some schools, such as Ohio State, the University of Missouri, and Southern Methodist University, have reportedly required student-athletes to sign these waivers.

"Schools are preparing to dodge even well-founded lawsuits - to assert that, in essence, students and employees who come to campuses thereby OK carelessness on the part of the schools," writes Feldman. "The technical term for this sort of defense is 'primary assumption of risk.'"

Liability waivers give businesses and organizations an easy argument against personal injury lawsuits - they give the defendant license to claim that an injured person "knew what they were getting into." While colleges are seeking federal immunity from COVID-19 related civil liability, they are using waivers as another means of avoiding liability in case the government does not grant it to them. Signing a waiver means granting a college a free pass to escape liability for your safety on campus.

Even without a signed waiver, universities can use primary assumption of risk arguments in any lawsuit that arises from an illness on campus. However, Dr. Feldman stresses the importance of making it harder for schools to make those arguments. Students, faculty and employees whose colleges will not provide ways to attend classes and work remotely should not give those colleges an easy escape from the consequences of a bad decision.

Dr. Feldman further warns that some schools, such as USC, will present so-called "hybrid" programs, allowing some students on campus and some students attending remotely. While these programs may seem benign on their face, Dr. Feldman reveals the true reason behind them: "These schools can be expected to argue that hybrid schemes demonstrate that nobody was required to be on campus as a condition of participating in classes. They will claim that anybody who does come to campus and contracts the disease agreed to shoulder the associated risks - and so cannot get damages from the school, regardless of whether its carelessness caused illness, injury or death."

Beyond refusing to sign any waiver, Dr. Feldman urges campus attendees to speak up about their situation and to note any attempts by colleges to coerce the signing of waivers: "Any employee or student who plans to be on campus this fall should also inform supervisors, deans, presidents, and in-house counsel in writing that showing up does not imply any release of the institution's legal responsibility to take reasonable measures against causing illness, including COVID-19."

Dr. Feldman's full op-ed can be found at Your college may ask you to sign a waiver for harm inflicted by COVID-19. Don't do it

For more information on how to protect yourself or your child from universities seeking to escape liability, please contact Goldberg Legal at 440-519-9900 or visit www.smglegal.com.

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