Are retail customers liable to sign off on liability waivers?
Concerns over customer safety and potential liability has led some retailers to ask customers to sign waivers and promises to follow the rules.
The most headline-grabbing example is Swedish furniture brand IKEA, which recently began requiring customers who purchase particular furniture items to acknowledge their intent to mount the product correctly, according to reports. Customers use a smartphone app to accept that they will anchor the furniture to the wall as directed in the instructions and must give IKEA their email and phone number. Customers then receive an email confirming their registration that allows them to pick up the furniture. They later receive a message reminding them to anchor the furniture to a wall as promised.
Though tip-over injuries, which involve people being crushed by unstable or incorrectly mounted furniture, are not exclusive to IKEA (Target, for instance, has recalled furniture for similar reasons), there have been an alarming number tied to the Swedish furniture giant’s products. In a 2017 recall of IKEA’s MALM dressers, a government report said that the furniture piece alone had caused 189 reported tip-over incidents, including 91 injuries of children and eight deaths. Additional tip-over injuries were associated with other IKEA products.
The public health risk of tip-over injuries is so significant that there is a U.S. government website, anchorit.gov, which advocates the correct securing of furniture to prevent tipping accidents.
While IKEA’s concern focuses on how its customers use these products outside of the store, presumably to stave off legal action or bad press, there has also been speculation about retailers asking in-store shoppers to sign waivers to limit liability to COVID-19-related lawsuits.
Such methods have already popped up in restaurants, barber shops and gyms, and an article from last summer on The Fashion Law speculated that it might be coming to stores as well.
A brief posted by the Colorado Bar Association in May recommends that retailers have customers sign carefully crafted liability waivers to limit vulnerability to lawsuits if customers later become infected.
Concerns about liability have also extended to workers, with some workplaces beginning to ask employees to sign COVID-19 liability waivers upon returning to work after lockdown, according to a San Francisco Chronicle article.
- IKEA customers to sign acknowledgment when buying chests of drawers – WSOCTV
- Target Recalls Room Essentials 4-Drawer Dressers Due to Tip-Over and Entrapment Hazards – CPSC.gov
- Anchor It! Secure Furniture and TVs: Protect Children – Anchorit.gov
- IKEA Reannounces Recall of MALM and Other Models of Chests and Dressers Due to Serious Tip-over Hazard; 8th Child Fatality Reported; Consumers Urged to Choose Between Refund or Repair – CPSC.gov
- Using Waivers of Liability to Protect Your Business During COVID – Colorado Bar Association
- You Might Soon Have to Sign a Waiver Before Shopping, as Companies Mull COVID-19 Liability – The Fashion Law
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see the kind of indemnification outlined in the article as being an effective and/or necessary way to reduce retailers’ liability exposure? Are such waivers a branding liability?