Liability Issues with Outreach

Recently my team has been looking other types of outreach that we can do for the community/local non-profits, but we have been worried about liability issues that may arise.

For example, we were given some old toy electric cars designed for little kids to ride in, and our plan was to modify them so that kids with disabilities could use them, but we didn’t because we were afraid of being held responsible if someone got injured using it.

If you really think about, anytime a team makes something for another organization, they could be held responsible for any problems it may cause. I know there is at least one team who has made dog beds for an animal shelter, and that’s something that could in theory cause either a person or a dog harm and then the team could be held responsible, but they still did it.

I think it is an a very reasonable worry, but I know teams do things that they could be held liable for pretty often and so I was wondering for people who are on teams who do stuff that could potentially be a legal worry, how you approach it in order to reduce your liability issues. I really do not want to be limited in the outreach we are able to do because of liability issues.

I think most teams either carry some form of insurance (to help cover costs if someone is injured), or require participants to sign a waiver so they can’t sue the team if anything happens. Although details differ, this is what I understand folks usually do to reduce liability of an organization (“Participate at your own risk”).

I’m not sure what all is entailed in extending these protections to folks you do outreach with though. I know our primary corporate sponsor donated some time from their legal folks to help get us set up with it when the team first started.

The first and foremost thing you can do if you are worried about this is discuss it with the non-profit or organization themselves. larger non-profits will have legal staff who can help you come up with a waiver agreement. Additionally, if you are worried, check with your 4H group regarding what would be covered on your end for this.

We are covered under our school liability insurance.

I had a very bad experience at a fair in 2013 - we were using our catapult robot and I was using our intake to roll the ball back and forth to a small girl. On the last go round, instead of rolling the ball to the robot, she pushed the balled and stayed in contact with it - extending her hands into the intake roller. Luckily it wasn’t a fast intake roller that year, but she ended up with both arms getting ‘intaked’. I was terrified. Luckily our intake was spring loaded so it didn’t do any damage. The mom looked like she was trying to find a weapon to use on me…

Be careful. One mistake can be very bad.

Touche. No amount of waiver will ever prevent the emotions associated with someone getting injured by your devices.

The biggest issue we’ve seen is people walking into the line of fire for our robots completely oblivious to the road cones, tape, students/mentors telling them not to walk that way, etc. It’s amazing how much people will ignore going on around them.

One other thing you may consider for demo events, slightly off topic.

When we’ve done demo events where we allow people to drive our robots (in a reasonably barricaded area), we’ve modded the code on a second controller for overrides for an observer.

We’ve done things like … controller 2 has to be holding the button for controller 1 to work, or if I press this button on controller 2 it limits drive speed to 25% of value (for smaller kids driving), or just if I hit this button the robot stops.

I know disable on the DS does the same thing, but the controller form factor can be nice as well.

Similar to this, whenever we bring a robot to an outreach event and let people drive it, we always use a modified code that limits the drive speed to 50% and normally disables some of the other mechanisms that don’t need to be used. Kids have a tendency to try and press every button they possibly can, so doing this generally makes things safer.

See also: Real life. I’ve had to refer people up my chain of command for doing stuff like that a few times.