If you conduct some of your business online or have a web site, protect your business (and yourself) from liability by creating a disclaimer for your website. A disclaimer can help you defend yourself if legal claims arise from your consumers.
It’s not just a legal trick. In reality, it is a way to inform your audience and clients of your limitations – what you can and can’t do for them. It sets expectations and also protects you from the more litigious out there (and, trust me, they exist).
What’s a Website Disclaimer?
It is a legal statement that can help the business reduce legal liability that can arise from users and third parties. A disclaimer is considered a warning to visitors of your website. It tells them that buying your products or services could cause harm that you’re not liable for. But, it’s not magic. And it needs to be done correctly. Importantly, it needs to match your business.
You cannot promise one thing in your marketing and then disclaim it later. What you are trying to do is be extremely clear about what your limitations. For example, if you are a personal trainer or health coach, you would be wise to explain that you are not a physician so cannot speak to whether it is safe for someone to participate in your program. In that scenario, you want to own that you will be pushing the physical limits but that it’s on them to make sure they are in a health position to do that.
Types of Disclaimers
There are different types of disclaimers that businesses use depending on what type of business they conduct on their site. Take a look at the following types to see which ones can protect your website.
This type tells consumers you may earn affiliate commissions from products you recommend. You have to disclose that you have an affiliate disclaimer according to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) if you plan to earn affiliate commissions. You can also read how to disclose sponsorship on Instagram.
This is a version that tells the reader that using their products may be different than what they see or read about in your testimonials or reviews.
For example, attorneys have various requirements to disclose and disclaim on the website as well as various rules from state to state for advertising. No Attorney-Client Privilege. This disclaims that there is an attorney-client privilege if someone contacts you through your website, meaning that conversations made on your website are not confidential. Make sure you understand whether your profession/industry requires such.
Medical Advice Disclaimer
If you run a website that offers medical advice, you need to disclose to visitors that your advice is only meant to inform them and not to be taken as medical advice. This would be true for any professional advice. It clearly is not customized so that just needs to be highlighted.
Professional Blog / Services Disclaimer
Similar to a medical advice disclaimer, if you have a site that provides professional blogs or services, you need to disclose that your content is for informational purposes and is not professional advice.
Websites that have products that visitors can purchase and use should come with a product disclaimer to protect your business from liability that could arise from injuries or misuse.
This tells visitors that the content you use is subject to copyright protection and what the visitor can do with your content.
Views Expressed Disclaimer
When using written material from another author, you will need to inform visitors that the opinions in the material are the author’s and not yours. This is common for publishers to use to protect themselves from liability.
Past Performance Disclaimer
Businesses that provide services like investment advisers or consultants can use this type that tells users that past performance does not guarantee future results.
Use at Your Own Risk Disclaimer
Businesses that provide recommendations on certain products or recipes for visitors to achieve results in specific areas should include this version to protect themselves from possible legal claims.
This is commonly used to tell visitors that the information in an email is for their eyes only and is not to be shared with others, for example, for HIPAA when dealing with health information.
Learn more about these from the FTC’s article on advertising and marketing on the internet.
Are you Legally Required to Have One?
Some versions are not legally required, but types like affiliate disclaimers and earnings disclaimers are. It is highly recommended that you have one on your website even if you are sharing content for free to protect yourself from possible claims from visitors on your site using your content or products.
Does a Disclaimer Legally Protect You?
They can when done well. Including disclaimers gives visitors warnings of the risk involved in using your website or products and sets up their expectations. It can also discourage them from bringing a claim against you. The caveat is that you can’t use disclaimers to protect yourself from your own false claims or for defaulting on your own legal obligations.
“Had I Known That.” This is the phrase you are trying to avoid. You don’t want a disgruntled client or customer claiming that we withheld information they needed to make a decision. That’s what disclaimers are all about – setting your limitations so your audiences has the right expectations.
Do You Need One on Your Website?
Most likely yes if you conduct your business online. It is very important to display a disclaimer, to save you time, money, and your business’ reputation. Here are some reasons to have one:
Build Trust with Site Visitors
Disclaimers tell visitors of your website that you are transparent in your business and that you are not setting up expectations to disappoint them. You can use those forms to inform your audience what to expect from you.
Safeguard Your Rights
It protects your rights, like a copyright disclaimer protects your intellectual property, and prevents legal actions.
Limit Your Liabilities
You know that having a business comes with risks, so having disclaimers helps you reduce those risks by preventing liability. Without them, running your business would not go smoothly and you would probably go bankrupt from the lawsuits.
Disclaim Third-Party Liability
This helps make sure that others’ actions do not make you liable for the results of those actions. Third-party liability disclaimers can also get rid of liability for people’s comments on your website or social media platforms.
Protect Your Organization’s Reputation
By using disclaimers, you can protect your business’s reputation by disassociating from your or others’ opinions. This way your business is not liable for your opinion or others’.
How to Enforce Your Website Disclaimer
These documents do not need to be actively enforced. In real life, if you were to be sued for harm done because of some information on your website, you could point to the disclaimer to the judge in court to try and protect yourself against liability. To increase your chances of having no liability because of your legal form, you will have to make sure the terms in the disclaimer are fair and that visitors to your website are aware of it.
Make Sure that your Terms are Fair
Disclaimers cannot shield you from negligence or terms that are contrary to law. You also need to make sure your terms are not vague in a way to mislead your customers. So make sure you are crystal clear on what you are disclaiming for it to be legally binding and to stand up in court.
Make Your Customers Aware of it
Do not place your disclaimer where your customer will not see it outright or will have to search for it. It needs to be easily seen to ensure consent to the disclaimer.
Where to Place it on Your Site
The most common place to include a disclaimer is in the terms and conditions. You can also place it in a website footer (the bottom of the page on the site). Most users scroll all the way to the bottom to find links or documents, so this can ensure visitors see the disclaimer. Another place you can put it is on a separate webpage so that users can see all of the disclaimers in one place. You can also have them on purchase pages for products.