The following is a brief overview of some of the more common disclaimers used on websites, blogs, and social media. Many of these disclaimers can be used for offline purposes as well.
What is a Disclaimer?
A disclaimer is a written statement designed to limit your legal liability to customers and visitors. Basically, a disclaimer transfers responsibility from one party to another. As one attorney so elegantly put it, “Hey, you; this is going to be your problem, not mine.”
Or, if you prefer, a boring legal definition:
The purpose of disclaimers, generally, is to limit one party’s risk, responsibility for, or liability toward another party or group. Typically, the corpus of the disclaimer arises from an obligation created by explicit, or sometimes assumed (think verbal), contractual obligations, but can also arise from statutory obligations. A more detailed definition can be provided if you wish.
Disclaimers are generally used in situations that maintain some level of risk or uncertainty. If you operate a website or blog or a traditional offline business, you’ll encounter an endless number of ways to get into legal trouble. In this article, we provide useful information about—and an overview of—disclaimers used by website and blog owners as well as by traditional businesses.
Types of Disclaimers
Although legal disclaimers come in an almost endless number of types, following are some of the most common ones used by website owners, blog operators, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers.
Website disclaimers help shift responsibility from you to the people who interact with your website. They do not fully release you from legal liability, but they are important documents that reduce your risk of legal action, including lawsuits.
Website owners are responsible for the content they post on their sites, and can be held legally liable for that content. They are also responsible for ensuring that any advertising claims they make, whether express or implied, are truthful and provable.
Because your website is fundamentally a contract between you, your visitors, your users, and your customers, you can be held accountable and subject to legal problems for the following:
- Violating your own terms and conditions
- Posting content that others have copyrighted
- Posting defamatory information about others
- Not disclosing the fact that you maintain an affiliate arrangement
- Not disclosing the fact that you receive compensation for product reviews
- The fact that one of your products caused injury to a customer
The best way to think about this type of disclaimer is to consider risky activities like smoking, bungee jumping, or working out at a gym, or risky scenarios like a pregnant woman who is in the presence of certain chemicals. “Risky” means that someone who engages in such activities may suffer injury. “Risky” does not mean that an injury will occur; it simply means that an injury is more likely to occur in that particular situation than in other situations.
If you run a business, chances are that you create situations in which the risk of injury (to customers or clients) is higher than usual. A customer could trip and fall in your shop, or a kid could snap her collarbone at your skateboard park. To avoid lawsuits or the possibility that you will be held responsible for such injuries, you need a liability disclaimer. A liability disclaimer sets boundaries that determine which actions are risky and which actions the business needs to be released from. Businesses can disclaim liability by, for example, having customers sign release forms or posting signs that warn people about potential risks.
Liability disclaimers are most often used in contracts between two parties. However, they apply to other situations as well. No business should open its doors without considering its need for a liability disclaimer. Methods exist to learn the statistics that reveal your business’s level of risk to customers. Actuaries can predict with tremendous accuracy the likelihood that, through the workings of your business, an injury will occur.
The most common form of an opinion disclaimer is a simple statement that excludes a larger entity from the spoken or written opinions of an individual. For example, if you listen to talk radio long enough, you will hear a disclaimer that states something akin to the fact that the radio station itself “may not necessarily hold the same opinions” as the show’s host. A business may want to maintain an official opinion disclaimer as a means of separating itself from ideas and opinions expressed by the business’s representatives.
By doing this, a large corporation can protect itself from lawsuits for libel or slander because of the actions of one of its employees. Also, consider a fan webpage. If you have created the ultimate Justin Bieber fan forum, but Justin Bieber has nothing to do with it, you’ll want to post a disclaimer stating this fact so that you are not sued for misrepresenting a celebrity.
Opinion disclaimers also exist for specific industries. For example, certified public accountants work under strict guidelines and are held accountable for their actions (e.g., signing off on documents, tax returns, etc.). When an accountant is asked to audit a business’s financial circumstances, he or she is considered an expert unless, due to lack of information, he or she can’t complete the audit. When a certified public accountant cannot complete an audit, he or she submits a disclaimer of opinion legally stating that fact.
A medical disclaimer explains the extent to which a source of medical information is responsible for the results achieved by people using that source. In short, the source of information takes NO responsibility for the actions people take based on the information provided. As the Internet has evolved into a source of information, the necessity of maintaining effective medical disclaimers has become more critical. After all, you do not want individuals who read your site to self-diagnose and treat themselves, then initiate court actions against you. Following are the main elements a good medical disclaimer should include.
- Nature and Extent of Information Provided: A medical disclaimer must explain that the information you provide is for general informational purposes. Further, it must state that the information is true to the best of your knowledge, but that any site cannot contain fully exhaustive information. Finally, if applicable, the disclaimer should state that the information you provide is not endorsed or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or any other medical authority.
- Opinions and Reviews: If your site publishes opinions and/or reviews from other people, or includes a forum where people can share their personal experiences, you must explain that you have not vetted, or that you do not endorse or share, these opinions and/or reviews. In other words, if on your site someone writes a post about how he grew a new leg because he ate a lot of Ginkgo biloba, you’ll want to ensure that you won’t be sued because you promoted this viewpoint to others.
- Damages: A disclaimer must explicitly state that your site assumes no liability for damages (i.e., injuries) visitors to your site experience based on actions they take. Again, the information you provide is simply information, nothing more. It is neither advice nor a recommendation that in any way promotes an action or behavior.
A financial disclaimer is a legal statement that appears on websites or at the bottoms of visual ads. The disclaimer explains the extent of responsibility a person or entity takes in terms of the financial information he or she provides. A financial disclaimer spells out how and to what extent individuals are responsible for the actions they take based on the financial information a person/entity relates. A good financial disclaimer should contain the following elements.
- No Advice or Relationship Clause: You want to eliminate misunderstandings. Any financial information you provide is simply that—information. You are not giving advice or entering into a professional relationship with your site’s visitors.
- No Decisions Clause: Although your website provides information, you want to be clear that a person shouldn’t necessarily use this information to make financial decisions regarding investments. A financial disclaimer must state this fact; doing so, it will prevent all kinds of trouble down the road.
- Self-Representation Clause: This states that any action a person takes is by his or her own volition; the person is autonomous.
- Private Information Warning: Be sure to remind people that they should NOT share personal or financial information. This simple directive will protect you from the actions of those who are litigious, and will protect those who are innocent but naïve.
- Accurate Information Warning: This explicitly states that the information on your site is accurate as far as you know, but that it is not perfect. Individuals are responsible for doing their own research and not simply using your site as the basis for their financial decisions.
All disclaimers are designed to avoid lawsuits. This holds true for advertising disclaimers, but in this arena, products, services, and political advertising are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Election Commission (FEC), respectively. These agencies exist to protect consumers and voters from false advertising and to ensure that evidence backs up any claims an advertisement explicitly makes.
For example, chewing gum ads often mention something like, “Nine out of ten dentists recommend Brand X Gum to their patients who chew gum.” A claim like this has some evidence to support it; if you look closely at the end of the ad, you’ll find a detailed written disclaimer that explains more. Of course, the disclaimer is impossible to read, but in theory you could record the ad and look carefully for the disclaimer. You will notice that no chewing gum ad states that chewing gum is good for your dental health. If it did, evidence would have to exist of this claim’s truth.
Political campaign advertisements are ethical issues unto themselves. However, since they are allowed at this time in history, the FEC demands that the commercials’ creators tell voters who paid for the ads. This is why one always sees something like “Paid for by the Elect Snoopy For President Group.” Further, the FEC usually requires that an ad show real footage of the candidate endorsing a certain claim and stating that he or she “approves of this message.”
Video disclaimers vary depending on a video’s content or the reason for its existence. They are designed to state, very clearly, the extent to which information is correct, or who may or may not use the video’s images.
The most common disclaimer makes clear the extent to which the information in a video can be applied to any particular circumstance. The idea is to ensure that viewers understand the video is not perfect, that information changes, and that such information may not apply to particular situations. Thus, one usually sees something like, “The information in this video is for informational purposes only. Viewers should seek the advice of qualified professionals before any decisions based on this information are made.” A disclaimer such as this protects viewers from making unsubstantiated inferences that may cause them financial, physical, or other harm.
The other kind of video disclaimer alerts participants in, for example, a webinar that their images may be used for promotional purposes or be placed on a YouTube channel or other public arena. Video disclaimers can also restrict the use of images. For example, at the end of Major League Baseball games, a disclaimer appears saying something like, “This recording may not be copied or disseminated in any form without expressed written consent from the MLB.” Finally, a disclaimer usually appears in stores or premises that use closed-circuit television surveillance systems. Such disclaimers prevent lawsuits alleging that a store took video images of a person without his or her knowledge.
The first thing to know about a warranty disclaimer is what a warranty actually is. A warranty is some kind of guarantee about a product that the seller makes to the buyer. A warranty disclaimer is a statement telling the buyer that the seller is not bound by any such guarantee. The main purpose of a warranty disclaimer is to free the seller from claims against him or her pertaining to product defects or failures.
Warranty disclaimers can be a bit confusing because a product must, even if it maintains a warranty disclaimer, abide by standards that federal and state governments have set.
An entire field of legal services exists dedicated to warranty disclaimers. One of the main things a seller must understand is what the Uniform Commercial Code (U.C.C.) states.
The U.C.C. claims that, unless a warranty disclaimer is “conspicuously” written (typically meaning that the disclaimer appears entirely in CAPITAL LETTERS), an “implied warranty” exists in which the seller guarantees goods to the buyer. Thus, if for whatever reason a seller wants to extricate itself from this “implied” warranty, it must clearly state that fact in a visible way in its warranty disclaimer. If the seller does not, the consumer can file litigation against the seller.
Again, the legal world of warranties, disclaimers, etc. is huge. A seller may have good reasons why he or she wants to extricate himself or herself from a warranty, but the seller must ensure that he or she uses the correct language. We’ll end here with a tried-and-true disclaimer: “Consult a lawyer before making any decisions about using a warranty disclaimer”!
Manufacturers use product disclaimers as attempts to release themselves from liability should a customer receive an injury after using the manufacturer’s products. Although the fact that certain products (e.g., a ladder) should be used only for specific purposes seems obvious, there will always be someone who decides to use a ladder as a temporary support beam to hold up a fallen ceiling that ultimately plummets and injures the person. A disclaimer clearly posted on or securely attached to the ladder helps protect the manufacturer and retailer from liability should a user employ the ladder in a manner that deviates from its intended purpose and, consequently, injure himself/herself or a passerby, or damage property.
A professionally drafted product disclaimer can help keep manufacturers, distributors, and retailers from facing damaging legal action and lawsuits. Conversely, a poorly drafted disclaimer can open manufacturers, distributors, and retailers to the legal action and lawsuits they wanted to avoid. For example, a statement that a product comes with no warranties of any kind is not enough to prevent legal action if a user suffers injury because he or she employed the product incorrectly.
However, a disclaimer stating that no warranties of any kind, either express or implied, are included with the product is an entirely different matter. This phrase—“warranties express or implied”—defends the manufacturer from the user’s assumption that he or she can employ the ladder as a means of safely supporting a fallen ceiling. A product disclaimer’s goal is to make it understood that regardless of how a person or consumer uses the ladder, no foundation for a lawsuit against the manufacturer exists if injury or damages result from the ladder failing. Of course, the manufacturer could be held liable if the product was made from defective materials.
A food disclaimer is a document companies post on product labels or otherwise make available to consumers. It discloses certain material facts about a food product that, by law, must be revealed, or provides a warning to persons who have severe food allergies.
A food disclaimer is considered a defensive move that a food producer takes against potential liabilities it might face in the disclaimer’s absence. Like a warning on a bottle of prescription drugs, a food disclaimer is a legal statement that, in general, gives consumers valuable information about a food product’s content. A food disclaimer might be required by law or FDA regulation.
A food disclaimer is advisable for any company manufacturing or selling food products that may adversely affect even a small percentage of the population. It protects such companies from potential lawsuits filed by customers who suffer injury. Likewise, a food disclaimer may also be required by law, such as an FDA regulation. For example, 21 C.F.R. § 101.60(c)(1) bars the use of the terms “sugar free” or “sugarless” on foods that are not low-calorie unless they bear an express warning immediately adjacent to each use of those terms. The warning must disclose the fact that the food is “not a reduced-calorie food,” “not a low-calorie food,” or “not for weight control.”
Likewise, the same regulation provides that the terms “no added sugar,” “without added sugar,” or “no sugar added” may be used if certain requirements have been met, including the use of a disclaimer that states the food is not “low calorie” or “calorie reduced,” and that directs consumers’ attention to the nutrition panel for additional information about sugar and calorie content.
Fitness and Exercise Disclaimer
If you sell or give away advice or information about exercise, training and fitness, you open yourself up to legal liability should your customers receive injuries after following the instructions you give them. Your goal as a personal trainer or a seller of this type of information is to transfer responsibility from yourself to your customer. One way to do this is by using a professional fitness and exercise disclaimer.
This type of disclaimer helps trainers, instructors, and publishers avoid legal liability from users and customers who use their products, services, and information. To be effective, your fitness disclaimer should be drafted by a licensed attorney and presented in a clear and obvious place where your users are sure to see it. It is common practice for many businesses to conceal their disclaimers, or to make them difficult to see on the assumption that, because the disclaimers are displayed, the businesses are protected. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The law is clear on this issue and has been for a long time. Disclaimers must be posted such that your visitors, users, or customers can easily see them before they use or buy your product or service.
Hundreds of thousands of events take place every year. However, many organizers fail to protect themselves. Although, as an event organizer, you can’t completely protect yourself, you can significantly reduce your chances of incurring legal liability because of injury, damages, and/or theft to body or property. An event disclaimer can protect you when you run events, both on and off the Internet.
The general language of an event disclaimer states that your attendees are participating at their own risk, are in good health, and maintain the physical condition necessary to take part in the event. The disclaimer also states that participants accept the risks and dangers associated with the event.
An event disclaimer states that attendance and participation is at the participant’s own risk and that anyone who takes part in the event must use good judgment, obey all laws, and take reasonable care to avoid injury to their persons or property. In addition, the disclaimer should include “not to sue” and “hold harmless” provisions.
It also makes sense to include a provision that protects you from claims should you decide to use photos, videos, and audio recordings of participants in your event. This provision is important if you want to publicize the event; it will let you publish the aforementioned types of media without worrying about possible legal problems from your participants.
Some provisions that an attorney-drafted event disclaimer might contain are:
- Assumption of risk
- Agreement not to sue
- Release of liability
- Permission to use photos, audio, and media
- Legal action and fees
- Governing law
How Enforceable are Disclaimers?
Not all disclaimers are allowed, and you cannot avoid all liability. However, in general, the law leans toward enforcing disclaimers that are correctly written and prominently posted. Select a disclaimer’s language with care. A disclaimer should be perfectly clear as to who bears the risk and should cover as many potential contingencies as possible. Professionally drafted website disclaimers (and disclosures) reduce your risk of legal liability.
How Should Disclaimers Be Drafted?
Carefully, because the goal of a disclaimer is to protect you from legal liability. Any disclaimer should be drafted or reviewed by a licensed attorney.
How Should You Display Disclaimers on Your Website or Blog?
The short answer is “clearly and conspicuously,” as required by law. Requirements vary depending on the type of disclaimer used. What is clear is that, to be effective, disclaimers must be made obvious to a user or customer who visits your website. However, some disclaimers can be part of a website’s terms and conditions. In any event, it is essential that a user or customer agrees to your terms and conditions for your disclaimers to be effective.
For a summary of this topic, visit our blog post,
“Are Your Website Policies Clear and Conspicuous?”
For the legal posting requirements about disclaimers and disclosures visit
FTC regulations on .com Disclosures