cover his ass

Cover your ass

Cover Your Ass (often abbreviated CYA or less commonly CYOA meaning "cover your own ass (or arse)") describes procedures or practices that are purely defensive against legal penalties, criticism, or other potentially punitive measures.

Some common examples include:

  • Defensive Medicine used by physicians; i.e., ordering tests that may not be necessary or helpful to the patient solely to insulate from future medical malpractice suits if the patient fails to recover, or if an illness is misdiagnosed.
  • Dysfunctional management practices such as unnecessary meetings, memos or emails solely to create a record and taken to the point of creating a strongly risk averse corporate culture.
  • Bank compliance officers, who sometimes joke that KYC ("know your customer") and CYA are essentially the same thing - ie. that money laundering and terrorist financing will inevitably occur regardless of the amount of regulatory structures put in place, but by complying with all the regulatory requirements, the compliance officers can absolve themselves from future liability for failing to spot a money launderer or terrorist.
  • Adult websites, who ask the viewer to certify they are of legal age: The user's answer is unverifiable, but the website authors can't be held responsible for an underage user's lying about their age.

The term's use is also reasonably widespread among journalists and structural engineers.

Law enforcement officers sometimes write CYA on their citation books as a reminder to protect themselves from both legal and physical danger.

As an example, just before the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, the final launch approval by Morton Thiokol (the maker of the solid rocket boosters used during the launch) contained the following warning: "Information on this page was prepared to support an oral presentation and cannot be considered complete without the oral discussion". This warning, which was present even though the information was sent by fax, has been labelled as a CYA notice.

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