Head Shots and Liability Waivers

The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show airs this week on Tuesday December 4th at 10pm EST on CBS. There are a lot of things that go on behind the scenes of such a production- from the organization of the fashion collection, set design, model castings, hair, makeup, etc. However, there are things that rarely come to mind; things such as ensuring that the models submit signed waivers of responsibility along with their head shots and measurements. For anyone organizing a fashion show or event, it is important to understand the specifics of waivers, as well as understanding the possible consequences of not having the proper documentation completed before the models hit the runway.

December 1, 2012-Fashion Writer Michelle Turner researches creative content for the pending Everything Lake fashion show (photo: T Scott Walker).

Waiver vs. Release
First, it is important to understand the difference between a waiver and a release. As Orlando attorney James E. Olsen explained, “a waiver is the voluntary relinquishment of a known right. A release is the relinquishment, concession, or giving up of a right, claim, or privilege, by a person in who it exists or to whom it accrues, to the person against whom it might have been demanded or enforced. The terms are often used almost interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference. Generally speaking, waivers are obtained before something happens, while a release is obtained after something happens.”


Broken Ankles

Mr. Olsen illustrated his point with this example:

“A designer or organizer might want to get a model to sign a waiver BEFORE the show which would hold the designer or organizer free of any claims the model could make should she slip on the runway and break an ankle. You would get a release from the model AFTER she slipped and broke an ankle (probably by paying some sort of settlement money) in exchange for the model agreeing not to sue in the future. Either way what you are getting is an agreement that the model will not sue in the future.”


Toothpick Stilettos

While Mr. Olsen strongly recommends the use of waivers, he cautions that a designer or organizer cannot ask someone to waive his or her own negligence.

“Maybe the designer gets the model to waive any claims she may have, but the designer then puts her in high heels made of 3 toothpicks glued together to form the heel, the heel breaks, and the model falls and breaks an ankle. Notwithstanding the fact that the model signed a waiver, she may still be able to sue by claiming that the designer was negligent in the design of the shoe [or the designer for holding the show outside in the rain on a slip and slide, for example].Basically, you can only ‘waive’ claims that would ordinarily be expected to arise in the course of the event.”


 Beyond the Waiver

To further explore the difference between a waiver and a release, Mr. Olsen commented, “For instance, let’s assume the same scenario as above. The designer goes to the model with $100,000 cash and says ‘you can have this money if you sign this release.’ She takes the money, signs the release and that is the end of it. However, the model later finds out her ankle becomes infected, has to have her leg cut off, and then wants to sue for more money because her damages are now vastly greater than $100,000 because she lost a leg. Tough, she can’t undo the release and that was the risk she assumed when she signed the release.”


December 1, 2012-Everything Lake Staff members discuss the legalities of their pending fashion show fundraiser (photo: Michelle Turner).

To Waiver or To Not Waiver?

When asked about the legal ramifications of having or not having a waiver, Mr. Olsen replied, “You want to, whenever possible, get waivers in advance of an event when you are dealing with individuals who are not employees but are really independent contractors and/or volunteers. However, there may always be legal ways around a release, so while they are good, they are not perfect. On the other hand, a release is almost ironclad as long as it was not obtained through fraud. That is why in a case of almost all settlements where money is changing hands (like a car wreck), there will be some sort of release signed so that there is absolute finality to the litigation or dispute.”

How to Get Started

Mr. Olsen provided a sample of waiver language but cautioned that each release/waiver should be drafted for each individual need and that one should avoid a “one size fits all” verbiage. He also advised that most waivers or releases run ‘from the beginning of time through the date of this release’. Google and local bookstores can provide resources to get you started, but are not a substitute for qualified legal counsel.



James E. Olsen, Esquire, can be reached via his paralegal Denise at (407) 999-7780 ex. 37




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