Disclaimers

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Although the need for disclaimers in the agency business is not new, I am hearing, or reading, more about the subject lately.

For one thing, I recently edited our series on selling travel insurance. The authors advised you to get some kind of sign-off from clients if they choose not to buy coverage. Maryland attorney Jeff Miller even provided sample disclaimers, which appeared in Travel Weekly on April 5.

At the spring '99 Minneapolis Travel Trade Show, local attorney Todd Wind said the most important disclaimer is one that discloses the names of principals and advises that your agency has no control over these third parties.

In more dramatic and tragic circumstances -- tourist murders in Uganda and NATO bombings of Yugoslavia -- we must address how you protect your clients with warnings and protect your business from liability. Washington attorney Mark Pestronk advised including safety issues in a standard agency disclaimer.

Other disclaimers are a bit more out of the ordinary. For one, Todd suggested a Year 2000 disclaimer advising that you do not know that all suppliers' computers are prepared for 2000 and that the agency cannot control the repercussions if the suppliers are not ready.

Other possible subjects for disclaimers are crime and high-risk adventure travel. Then, for a niche disclaimer, Jeff suggests you consider a disclaimer to make clients aware that if they sail on one of the new mega-cruise ships, they may not get the dinner seating they want or have access to other amenities. (More appears at his Web site, www.jmillerlaw.com.)

This seems like a lot of legal concerns to be bringing to the selling table, doesn't it?

The idea of a disclaimer about life on a big ship sent me to Jeff for help on boiling all this advice down. He said judge the client, the type of trip and the destination when determining how to use disclaimers.

He said every agency should have two or three standard fill-in-the-blank disclaimers, and -- when selling leisure -- the most basic are those that disclose third-party suppliers and prove travel insurance was offered. He said his clients range from agencies that use no disclaimers to those that use them "religiously." The first group fears clients will leave, but, he said, agencies at the other end of the spectrum are proof they will not.

If you are gun-shy on this, try talking to agents who use the documents successfully. It is, after all, just as commonsensical to protect your business from legal claims as it is to charge fees if that is what it takes to turn a profit.

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