Question #2 from March 2011 Brownbag

A listener asked “How meaningful are the many liability disclaimers we all wind up signing? Do they qualify as ‘Consent’?”

In other words, are we truly giving our “Informed Consent” when we’re handed a piece of paper with several paragraphs of fine print on them, and we’re told

  • “Sign here, and so we can proceed with xyz…?”

The fine print, if we DO read it, usually stipulates – in one way or another — that we accept all responsibility if anything goes wrong.

The same goes for all the “I Accept” buttons we push on our computers when we download new software . . . Software to which we DO entrust our work and the fruits of our creativity.

Do ANY of you ever READ those long, paragraph-after-paragraph fine print of liability disclaimers? (We have a few times . . . but, have concluded, what are we going to do? . . . NOT use the software we just paid several hundred dollars for…?)

Does it Qualify as “Informed Consent?”

This IS a great question, and relates back to what the nurse’s article that Hans talked about in the (March 2011) Brownbag. It may, for the moment, prevent frivolous lawsuits.

But, if something REALLY serious goes wrong . . . It probably will turn out NOT to have been complete “Informed Consent.”

It’s NOT Informed Consent unless the person signing the document – or pushing the button – says to him/herself AFTER things have gone wrong:

  • I UNDERSTOOD the risk I was taking
  • I UNDERSTOOD that this could happen
  • I went into this with OPEN eyes
  • I was fully informed, ahead of time, that THIS could happen
  • I have no one to blame . . .

The point for you, me, and anyone working in the public arena is that this kind of disclaimer may make sense in many business situations; but, they are NOT appropriate for the work we are engaged in.

Like the nurse in the referenced article, for us there are no shortcuts.

We have to develop honest-to-goodness Informed Consent!

We don’t really blame people who, in a great many business situations – such as selling software – use these kinds of “sign here” or “push this button if you accept our conditions” liability disclaimers.

There are so many people who sue for the most trivial reasons . . . Just to have the business in question settle out of court to get rid of the harassing suit.

For some people it IS a way of earning a living; call it “modern highway robbery.” Though these liability disclaimers ARE rather superficial “Consent” statements, they probably eliminate 99% of the potential frivolous lawsuits.