Avoiding Claims of Negligence in Fitness Centres
Running a gym can be a rewarding and lucrative business. However, exercise carries inherent risks that need to be successfully managed.
No matter how careful you are or how much you pride yourself on safety, you’ll likely be leveled with a negligence claim at some point in your career. Depending on the severity of an injury sustained in a gym accident, this could lead to a lawsuit that can sink your business.
The practice of lowering risk is known as risk management and should be a cornerstone of any successful operation.
Read on to learn about the legal definitions of negligence, the various claims of negligence often leveled at gyms, and how to mitigate them.
Ordinary vs Gross Negligence
Negligence comes in two flavors: Ordinary Negligence and Gross Negligence.
Ordinary negligence is defined as “when a person or company fails to take reasonable measures to avoid causing financial harm or injury to others.”
In a fitness context, one example would be if a maintenance person missed a spot on the floor during their rounds and someone slipped on it. The act was negligent, but not intentional in any way.
Waivers protect gyms and fitness professionals every day and a well-written liability waiver can act as a shield against many injury lawsuits related to ordinary negligence and inherent risk.
Where they fall short is when a fitness business or professional is found guilty of gross negligence: a conscious and voluntary disregard of the need to use reasonable care, which is likely to cause foreseeable grave injury or harm to persons, property, or both. Using the above cleaning example, it would be grossly negligent if you did not conduct regular cleaning of slippery areas at all.
As a service provider, you are legally required to exercise a reasonable standard of care when working with your clients. That involves proactively identifying and managing risks involved in your business. Failure to do so means that your waiver becomes a much weaker defense in court.
In order to ensure you are exercising your duty of care, it’s important to minimize risks wherever possible.
Examples of Negligence in Fitness Centers and How to Avoid Them
This section examines situations in which a gym can be accused of negligence.
For each situation, we also take a look at how gyms can manage their risk of having these incidents occur, or lowering the potential for a lawsuit should they occur.
Staying proactive in the fight against lawsuits means regularly assessing your club’s equipment, policies, and procedures to ensure you are providing a safe experience for your members.
Injuries due to faulty equipment are some of the most common causes of lawsuits leveled against fitness centers.
Consider the case of a man who successfully sued Gold’s Gym after being crushed by a faulty Flex Smith machine. To manage these risks, it’s important that you regularly inspect the equipment, and remove or replace anything that shows signs of wear or disrepair.
Many gyms also get their members involved, with easy systems for them to report broken machines.
Equipment Layout and Instructions
Consider the example of Jimenez vs. 24 Hour Fitness. Etelvina Jimenez fell backward off of a treadmill and suffered a major head injury when she came into contact with another piece of exercise equipment. Her legal team argued that the treadmill was too close to other equipment, which could be seen as gross negligence in not enforcing a reasonable safety standard.
Always make sure that you lay out your equipment with the recommended amount of space between each. You also need to make sure that you have proper instruction signage on each piece of equipment so your clients use proper form when exercising.
Slips and falls can happen anywhere – but just in case it happens in your facility, you had better make sure you cover yourself! Examples include:
- Slippery surfaces
- Water leaks
- Electrical cords across the floor
- Sauna temperature too high, or not cleaned properly
Personal Training Injury
Many lawsuits are leveled against personal trainers employed by gyms on allegation of negligent conduct – with the gym taking at least some of the blame!
Common accusations against personal trainers include:
- Pushing a client too hard despite objections or obvious difficulty
- Encouraging fitness activities that worsen pre-existing conditions
- Improperly instructing a client on the correct form for an exercise
- Giving health advice without being qualified to do so
Unqualified Personal Trainers
It may be tempting to hire trainers who don’t hold certifications as they come at a cheaper price point, but this can come back to bite you later.
A certified trainer will have learned how to train people of all ages and abilities, and also those who have chronic conditions or injuries.
Some of the major certifications held by personal trainers include:
- Academy of Applied Personal Training Education (AAPTE).
- ACTION Certification.
- American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).
- American Council on Exercise (ACE).
- Cooper Institute (CI).
- International Fitness Professionals Association.
- National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).
- National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF).
- National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association (NESTA).
- National Exercise Trainers Association (NETA).
- National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT).
- National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).
- PTA Global.
You also need to make sure that you keep track of when qualifications expire, and be proactive in ensuring your trainers get them renewed.
Failure to Acquire a Full Medical History
When you are onboarding new members or personal training clients, it’s important to make sure you have them sign off on a full medical history and conduct a fitness assessment. That way, should they choose not to declare a chronic medical issue and then later say you neglected it when they were being trained, you’ll have a record stating they never acknowledged it.
Flawed or No Emergency Response System
Another major source of lawsuits is an uncoordinated response to a medical emergency. Should a client suffer an accident or succumb to a health-related issue, your team needs to be trained to know who is in charge, who should call emergency services, where the first aid kits and defibrillators are, etc.
However, ensuring your staff has their first aid qualifications is not enough. You need to conduct regular first aid and emergency drills so your staff can act without thinking in an emergency.
You also need to make sure you always have enough staff working each shift to properly manage an emergency.
Lack of disability compliance
A New York health club was recently hit with a class-action lawsuit claiming the club lacked properly accessibility, therefore discriminating against those with physical disabilities. It is important that your facility meets Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines, including:
- Accessible swimming pools with lifts and ramps
- Accessible locker rooms and bathrooms
- Accessible showers
- Grab bars in showers and restroom stalls
- Signage for those with disabilities
Failure to collect or retain gym liability waivers
Last but not least, it is important that a release of liability gym waiver is a part of every gym registration. A fitness waiver helps protect you and your business against claims of ordinary negligence and dangers inherent in fitness activities. This includes many of the legal issues mentioned above.
Manage your legal risks as a fitness owner
Running a successful business means having happy members and earning referrals – which you don’t get without being proactive in managing risk.
If you’re looking for a streamlined release of liability waiver solution that allows you to easily store and retrieve signed club membership agreements digitally, try WaiverForever for free – no credit card required.
No more paper, no more filing – and you will always be fully compliant for all gym insurance programs.