Don’t put yourself in a position of being sued by a student.
An important part of the martial art business is in most cases running classes with as many students as possible and attracting on-going new students.
As an instructor running a martial art or self defence class there is always the possibility that a student could be injured during training at your school and there is also a possibility that you could be sued. A lawsuit would mostly likely as a result of claim of negligence.
To be successful in a lawsuit involving negligence the plaintiff (the person suing) must show that the defendant (the person being sued)
- Owed a duty of care to the plaintiff
- Breached the duty of care and that
- The plaintiff suffered damage (an injury).
In regard to point 1, as martial arts instructors we owe a duty of care to provide our students with a safe training methods and a safe environment in which to train.
One question that will be asked if the matter goes to court is; has the instructor breached that duty of care by anything they have done or not done.
What things should we be very careful about to ensure we don’t breach our duty of care?
You must be able to show that you have done everything that a reasonable person would do to ensure that your students are not injured in your school or during your class specifically;
- Sparring bouts are supervised by qualified and experienced instructors
- Students are evenly matched in size, experience and age in the case of younger students
- The rules in regard to the level on contact are clearly stated and observed
- Appropriate protective equipment is worn
General training martial art training ensure:
- The venue is safe and that there are no apparently dangerous items present
- The class is designed and supervised by qualified and experienced instructors
- Any equipment used during training is safe and in good order
Fitness and cardiovascular training ensure:
- The intensity and length of session is suitable to the students in class
- That new students are monitored to ensure that they don’t overdo things
- The intensity and length of session is suitable with regard to the weather or other conditions.
- That all exercises are safe
What else can we do?
In NSW martial art instructors are assisted by Division 5 - Recreational activities, sections 5L and 5M of the Civil Liability Act 2002 in that it states
No liability for harm suffered from obvious risks of dangerous recreational activities
(1) A person ("the defendant") is not liable in negligence for harm suffered by another person ("the plaintiff") as a result of the materialisation of an obvious risk of a dangerous recreational activity engaged in by the plaintiff.
(2) This section applies whether or not the plaintiff was aware of the risk.
I recommend that instructors in other states check laws relevant to your state.
While subsection 2 indicates that the plaintiff need not be aware of the risk I consider that it is better to be safe than sorry by taking the obvious lesson from the Civil Liability Act 2002 and making sure that you as a martial art instructor make it clear to all students new and old that martial art/self defence training is a potentially dangerous recreational activity.
The best way to make students aware of the potential dangers is by having students read and sign a waiver that includes notations that clearly outlines what training in your school involves and that the student understands and acknowledges:
- That martial art training is a physical activity involving movement and exercise and as such is potentially dangerous.
- That practicing martial art and self defence techniques may involve training with a partner and contact with training equipment (including but not limited to punching, kicking, elbows and knees) and as such are potentially dangerous. (If applicable).
- That they understand and will abide by any rules of the school in regard to general training, sparring and contact, weapons and any other specialist training undertaken at the school.
- That students should consult their doctor before engaging in training if they have any concerns about the level of their health and fitness.
- If you school engages in specialist training such as throwing or weapons or any other training that would be considered as non-usual any potential dangers should be clearly defined.
In addition to a waiver many schools opt to have students complete a pre-exercise/health questionnaire. If you don’t use the a questionnaire talk to new students, find out what exercise if an they have been doing, if there are any pre-existing medical or health conditions or concerns. As an instructor make a judgement, if you are now sure ask the student to go to their doctor and obtain a medical certificate to show that they are fit to engage in training.
To sum up, cover yourself, if you don’t have a waiver in place get one and make sure anyone coming into your school is aware that martial art/self defence training is a potentially dangerous recreational activity. If you operate a full time centre I recommend placing a similar warning in an area where it can be clearly seen.
The author of this article, Phil O’Brien is a solicitor with Sydney firm CLB Lawyers and a martial arts instructor who has taught reality based self defence in Western Sydney for the past twenty five years, he has extensively studied both the physical and psychological elements of self defence.
Should you require the services of a solicitor in regard to the use of self defence or any other legal matters, Phil can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0409 078 322
This is general information only; it does not replace advice from a qualified solicitor in your state or territory. It is recommended that should require legal advice you should seek advice from a suitability qualified and experience legal practitioner in your state.