When John Doe #1 recently filed suit over John Travolta’s wandering hands in the massage room my immediate reaction was, “Well, there goes the first shoe.”
Sure enough, over the next few weeks other massage practitioners came out of the woodwork testifying to similar experiences and the tabloid press went into overdrive. At last count, the number of accusers was up to five.
In the massage industry this was old news. I heard from practitioners over a decade ago who had Mr. Travolta as a customer and told essentially the same story. With a little bit of discrete asking around as I traveled the country I found out he had a well-deserved reputation of a celebrity to avoid in the massage room as did a number of other high profile, famous folks. Ho hum.
However, the suit did bring to mind the question about the potential fallout of reporting customers who propose illegal activity to massage practitioners. After all, if someone on the street solicited sexual services in exchange for money to an undercover police officer, that person would be arrested.
So what happens if a practitioner reports illegal sexual advances from a customer to the police? I was particularly curious as to whether our two primary professional liability insurance organizations would support the practitioner. So, I put the question to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) and Associated Massage and Bodywork Professionals (ABMP).
Specifically, I wondered:
- Do they encourage such reporting?
- Does their liability policies support such reporting?
- What if the customer sues the practitioner for defamation?
- Will they defend a member against such a suit?
So, I asked and got prompt responses from both organizations. First, from Ron Precht, Communications Manager of AMTA:
AMTA has always encouraged massage therapists to protect themselves, if they feel they are in danger or feel a client has put them in an unprofessional position. That includes reporting incidents to police, when the massage therapist feels threatened.
The personal injury portion of the AMTA insurance policy states that injury arising out of offenses of libel and slander are covered when committed in the conduct of the enrolled member’s professional services. So, yes, the policy is intended to defend insured members when they are named in lawsuits alleging libel or slander arising from their provision of massage therapy services – such as when reporting a client for illegal sexual advances. Of course, the facts and circumstances of each claim are unique, so coverage can only be assured after evaluation of the specifics of a claim or lawsuit. If it was found that the insured member lied or intentionally disparaged another, coverage would be excluded.
Next, from Les Sweeny, one of the owners of ABMP:
Regarding reporting advances, we are strongly in favor of it; we want our members to act in their own best interests and safety, but to help identify inappropriate behavior. If a customer were to sue a member for slander/defamation, the insurance policy included with membership would cover the cost of defending the member.
So, the upshot is that both the AMTA and ABMP policies contain a “Travolta Clause” protecting their policyholders if they report a misbehaving customer and the customer decides to counter-sue. That is good news. It makes it much easier to be clear with customers who are thinking about crossing the line. And, if you feel threatened in any way, don’t be afraid to call the police.
Let’s just hope that the massage practitioners in the Travolta saga have their policies paid up-to-date.