How can Summer 2020 be over already? I am not sure about you but for me, Summer 2020 was the strangest ever. I felt like it was practically on hold because of this Global Pandemic we are all living through and now I cannot believe it is almost over. I kept waiting for things to get better, I kept waiting for the green light to make my annual trip home to Donegal to see my parents, I kept changing flights, but alas it was not meant to be. As I write this, we are all preparing for the end of Summer, back to college and back to school. Although for many it is true that school and college will look very different this Fall. This month I wanted to alert IAN readers to a new trend I have seen being reported on with some frequency, as our children and teachers attempt to return to some sort of normal life routine.
This week the Chicago Tribune ran an article alerting its readers to the trend of students and parents being asked to sign liability waivers, which waivers are a statement or a promise, that the signer of the document, is accepting the risk of contracting COVID 19, if and when they return to work and/or school.
I have seen these forms called various things from acknowledgments to statements to codes of conducts and student codes. As reported in the Tribune – β€œIIT, Northwestern University, Saint Xavier University and Illinois State University have all sent out documents to students or staff members with language about the risks of contracting COVID-19, in the course of school activities. Outside of Illinois, students at the University of Alabama and the University of New Hampshire have raised concerns that such forms could be used as liability waivers to shield universities from accountability.”
Many of the forms also include language and statements that colleges and schools cannot guarantee a risk free environment and the documents are essentially alerting all those that are returning, that they are doing so voluntarily, despite this risk. The premise behind the forms being signed by returning students and staff is to alert everyone returning, that there is a risk that they will and can contract this virus at their school or college and that in returning they are being made aware of this risk and indeed accepting it anyway. Their legality and enforceability is really beyond the scope of this article, and indeed I think will be subjected to some litigation in the courts throughout the nation, so if you have a particular question about a particular document you are being asked to sign I would urge you to give me a call and we can discuss the actual facts of your individual circumstances.
As well as for students returning to college and school, I have received a few calls in the last few weeks from teachers and other employees who are being asked to sign such statements and acknowledgements by their employers and those employees are now worried that by doing so they will then have no recourse if they do in fact contract the corona virus due to an exposure at their work place. As I have written about in the last few IAN Articles, there is now a presumption in the Illinois Workers Compensation Act that if a front line and/or essential worker, contracts COVID 19, and has been actively working, before the positive diagnosis, it will be presumed that the exposure to COVID 19, was and is, as a result of work and the work environment and thus such a case would be compensable under The Workers Compensation Act/Occupational Diseases Act.
I want to also reassure teachers and front lime workers, that employers simply cannot contract out of, or skirt their responsibilities under the Workers Compensation Act by asking their staff to sign a liability waiver. It is simply illegal and it does not work. There is language built into the Act itself to outlaw such a thing, so speaking very generally, if an employer asks you to sign a waiver of liability as regards contracting COVID 19, at work, it will not affect your rights to still claim for workers compensation benefits under The Workers Compensation Act/Occupational Diseases Act. As every situation is different I cannot emphasize enough that if you have a particular concern or have been asked to sign such a waiver by your employer, I would be happy to discuss the situation with you. All of our consultations are free and it never hurts to ask the questions. Please stay safe everyone and Be Kind to each other.
*Caroleann Gallagher is an Irish born Attorney now licensed in Illinois and practicing all types of personal injury law – including nursing home litigation, medical malpractice law, wrongful death claims, transportation injuries, premises liability claims, defective product claims, construction site injuries and Workers Compensation. She can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 312-543-4642