What You Need To Know About Liability Waivers and Retreat Legalities

February 27, 2019
Azzura Ricci
7 min read

We are sure most of you will agree that the exciting part of organizing a retreat lies in choosing the destination and designing a life-changing program for your attendees. Admin is a lot further down the to-do list, while liability waivers and retreat legalities are just about unthought of.

The reality though, is they play a key role in protecting both you and your attendees in the case of any unforeseen occurrences. They also serve to manage and outline everyone’s expectations and responsibilities on the legal, financial, as well as safety front.

Recently we have been receiving a ton of inquiries from you via social media and email asking for guidance on the topics of liability waivers, insurance, and other legalities associated with putting together a retreat. To help shed some light on the matter, we spoke to Dr. Sheri Rosenthal, CEO of Wanderlust Entrepreneur.

Dr Sheri Ronsenthal on what you need to know about liability waivers and retreat legalities

Sheri is a renowned strategist and expert in the field of all things retreat related. She has taught thousands of facilitators how to design and plan exceptional retreats for their clients. Read on for the advice she had to share with us in response to some frequently asked questions.

What Are The Key Elements of Planning Successful Retreats?

Timeline planning Selecting your venue  Itinerary & program design  Sustainability considerations  Marketing  Financials & profitability  Legal forms & liabilities  Insurance

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What You Need To Know About Liability Waivers and Retreat Legalities with Dr. Sheri Rosenthal

Q: What is the first thing to consider with regards to the legalities involved with hosting a retreat?

A:  Get yourself properly insured.

The first thing we need to focus on is insurance. If you’re teaching something in your business or working with people in any way, you need Professional Liability (PL) Insurance or Professional Indemnity Insurance (it’s called different things in different countries).

Professional Liability is also known more commonly as Errors & Omissions Insurance (E&O) in the US. Basically, it helps protect folks who give advice in their business from having to pay the costs of defending themselves against a negligence claim made by a client.

To be clear, an error would be you imparting a piece of advice to your client that was not correct and caused harm. An omission would be something critical that you forgot to do or tell your client that created harm.

The reason you need PL insurance is that if you give any kind of advice to folks on your retreat, people can potentially come back and sue you because of your advice.

For example, someone could sue you for that seemingly great counsel you gave on Hashimoto’s, or because they lost too much weight from your food advice. These would be considered errors.

An omission could be not telling your group not to explore a certain area because it is unsafe and as a result, they walk around town and get attacked then sue you for damages.

The second insurance policy you should have is General Liability Insurance. This type of policy specifically covers you, your business, and your employees from claims involving bodily injury or property damage. I find that many hotels and retreat centers these days want to make sure that you are protected while doing a retreat on their property. So if someone falls and injures themselves at the retreat center while learning from you, this insurance would help protect you.

Retreat insurance

Q: What if something out of our control happens as a result of factors unrelated to our retreat or the center?

A: Carry Retreat Insurance.

Now, there is one more type of insurance you should carry, and that is Retreat Insurance. Why? Well, there are things that happen on retreats that do not happen when you are coaching someone on Skype or in your yoga studio.

For example, if I do a business retreat overseas and one of my participants gets held up at gunpoint and sues me for taking her to an unsafe place, that incident has nothing to do with my business coaching or falling at a retreat center. It is the result of the risks of travel, and for that, you need retreat insurance. This policy is the type of insurance that travel operators and meeting planners normally carry.

Q: Sometimes it can be difficult to get retreat insurance because retreat leaders are not travel companies. What do we do then?

A: This brings us to the next legal issue – know the Seller of Travel Law.

When we create a retreat, we don’t normally think about that fact that we are also designing a travel experience.

One of the more common definitions of a Seller of Travel is this: A seller of travel is person, firm, corporation or business entity that offers for sale, at wholesale or retail, prearranged travel or tourist-related services for individuals or groups, through vacation or tour packages.

So, if you’re offering rooms at the retreat center, meals, your teachings, activities, a tour or two, and even arranging pickup at the airport – packaged together that can be considered selling travel.

In the USA, five states have laws around this: California, Washington, Iowa, Hawaii, and Florida. It doesn’t matter if you live in those states or not – it matters that you are selling to someone in those states.

Also, Canada has some of the strictest Seller of Travel Laws in the world, especially Ontario where TICO (Travel Industry Council of Ontario) can shut you down and/or fine you if they find out you are running retreats unless you are a travel company.

Seller of Travel Law

Q: Many practitioners run retreats though, so how do we work within this law?

A: One option is to hire a travel company that has the correct retreat insurance.

When I started running my own retreats in 2003, I opened my own travel company in Florida to protect myself for this very reason. Once I did – other retreat leaders started asking me to plan and manage their retreats, and my company has been doing so and protecting retreat leaders ever since.

The way it works is like this. If I, as a travel company, collect the money for the retreat and I hire the retreat leader as an independent contractor to lead the retreat, then they are not selling travel. I am since I am collecting the funds and paying the retreat leader their net only.

In addition to the geographies mentioned above, Seller of Travel Laws also apply in Australia and in Europe so please make sure you do your due diligence. Of course, in most countries, the government is not taking time to hunt down small-fry retreat leaders – but a travel company could see what you are doing, and report you to local authorities or an unhappy retreat participant could also do the same.

Q: As a retreat leader, how do we protect ourselves legally in the event of an unforeseen incident that results in loss to us or our attendees?

A: Have solid legal forms!

Even more important than the proper insurance is solid legal forms. If you have good insurance but you don’t have your retreat attendees sign proper liability forms, it is going to be hard for your insurance company to defend you.

It is crucial to have your participants sign legal forms that specifically say that they are assuming the risks of travel AND that they are releasing you from any liability that might arise from your negligence, carelessness or from their general participation in your retreat.

These forms will not stop someone from suing you if they want to. But at least you have the evidence that they signed the release and you properly educated your clients about the risks of traveling with you which is very positive in your favor.

Your forms should also reflect that you are not responsible for any mental distress that could result from your teachings and if you’re a business coach, for example, do state that attending your retreat is not a guarantee that they will become successful – or something along those lines.

In the end, I suggest that you connect with your favorite lawyer on all of this since that is not my specialty. Every state and country is different and you want to make sure you are properly covered.

Solid legal forms

Q: Do you have any other useful advice to give us on the subject?

A: Consider Incorporating.

I don’t want to take too much time here other than to say that incorporating does create an extra layer of protection between you and your assets, and the public – especially if you ever get sued.

Make sure you talk to a lawyer and an accountant before incorporating because there are many different kinds of structures and if you pick the wrong one it can potentially create a tax issue that ends up costing you a lot of money. For example, just because all your friends have LLC’s does not mean that is the best structure for you! Be smart and do your due diligence.


Thank you to Sheri for taking the time to walk us through some of the finer details involved in retreat legalities. There are certainly some helpful insights which can be applied that make the topic a whole lot less daunting.

If you’d like to read more about  Dr. Sheri Rosenthal and her business, head on over to her website wanderlustentrepreneur.com to get in touch.