What is a Disclaimer and Do I Need One?
Grab a coffee (or a shot of tequila?) because we’re deep diving into some legal jargon today!
It’s likely you encounter disclaimers on on a daily basis without even thinking twice about them, because disclaimers are all around us:
In the parking lot letting you know that the owner of said lot is not responsible for the theft of any valuables in your car, so take them with you!
Or the *HOT BEVERAGE!* disclaimer warning you that its contents may burn you, so drink at your own risk!
Or the one I use everyday, including just for writing this blog which is:
This post is for educational and informational purposes only and is not to be relied on for legal advice. Read and implement at your own risk and hire a lawyer if you need specific legal advice!
Now that that’s out of the way…
As a business owner, especially in the online space, you might not think much about the disclaimers that apply to your business. But you should so that you aren't leaving yourself open to legal liability. So on that note, let’s dive in.
What is a Disclaimer?
In the business world, a disclaimer is a legal statement that can be found on websites, in legal contracts, or even as a stand-alone document where one party tells the other party that they are denying legal responsibility for something that might happen as a result of the other party using or implementing what they're offering.
As a business owner, the purpose of your disclaimer is to draw attention to and outline the risks that might arise as a result of your client or customer’s use of the content or services you provide. This includes content on your website or other resources, whether paid or not, as well as any of the products or services that you offer. It’s important to use appropriate disclaimers to highlight any potential risks of using your services to your clients, so they can make an informed decision to accept those risks which helps to limit your liability as much as possible.
Important Information to Know About Disclaimers.
When it comes to using disclaimers in your business, there are a few key pieces of information to keep in mind in order to use them effectively and legally.
1. Disclaimers should be tailored to your specific business.
A general or overly broad catch-all that doesn’t relate at all to the specific risks associated with what you're offering is not going to be much help to you in the event you need to rely on it. In fact, it might not even be enforceable if examined by a court. Instead, disclaimers need to be tailored to your specific business. Don’t just copy and paste someone else’s disclaimer and check this off your list. Instead, your disclaimer should have specific wording relating to the actual risks of your services. This is important because you don’t want there to be any grey area when it comes to your disclaimer. It should be very clear to your customer the risks of using your services or products, what you are and are not promising and what you are not legally liable for.
For instance, if you are a business coach and use testimonials from other clients that suggest you have helped these clients reach their financial goals (such as six figures in six months), in your marketing, it’s likely that including a disclaimer here would be a really good idea. Your disclaimer may state that all situations and circumstances are different and that individual results may vary. A good disclaimer would go on to state that you are not responsible or liable if your client hires you and doesn’t reach their specific goals, unless of course you provide this as a guarantee. You may then rely on this if your client is upset, or worse, sues you when they don’t hit their goals. Of course each case is fact-specific and no disclaimer is 100% guaranteed to protect you, but not having any form of disclaimer does not give you much to rely on in the event you are sued.
2. Disclaimers are especially important in the health and wellness space.
Another example is the health and wellness space. It’s extremely important in this industry to nail your disclaimer and ensure that you are up front about your qualifications and what you can and cannot assist with.
For example, if you are a health coach, it is really important to disclose to your clients that you are not a medical professional and that your clients should seek the advice of their doctor before changing their health routines, etc. It’s also important to indicate on your website that your general resources and content is not tailored to their individual needs, that it is for informational and educational purposes only and you're not responsible for any effects of them implementing any of the information on your website.
3. Disclaimers are not 100% bulletproof.
I said it above, and I’ll say it again: Yes, disclaimers are important, but they are not bulletproof. They are there to protect you so that you have something to rely on in the event of a claim.. They are also there to ensure the risks are highlighted to your clients or customers, that way they are making an informed decision, knowing the risks before purchasing your product or service.
Most service-based websites have a disclaimer that the content and resources provided are for educational and informational purposes only and the owner of the website isn’t responsible for what the user does (or doesn’t do) with that information.
Think About Where Liability Could Arise in Your Business.
When you’re thinking about the types of disclaimers you need in your business, you need to consider the areas that open you up to liability.
Look at your business and consider where liability might arise. Think about all of the situations that could happen and cause you to be liable. This can also help you think through your systems and processes to help prevent them.
It’s important to remember that these disclaimers, while important for your protection, aren’t 100% bulletproof. You could still be found liable, especially if you are negligent in providing your products or services as you stated you would.
There are also some really excellent resources on ethical marketing out there, which is outside of the scope of this blog post but are excellent resources in turns of ethical selling and marketing. There is good overlap between ethical marketing and disclaimers, and two great starting points for this would be to check out The Brand Copywriter or Rachel Turner.
If you have been operating without a disclaimer in your business, and think your contract needs an upgrade at the same time, whether you're a coach, service-provider, virtual assistant, personal trainer, or are looking for a custom, straightforward contract for your business, you can check out our contracts here.
All of our services agreements include various appropriate disclaimers, which can be further customized for your unique business.