Write a Rock-Solid Personal Training Liability Waiver
Personal trainers have to put up with a lot; while you’ll have clients you love, there are always going to be some that are demanding a little bit extra.
Unfortunately, in our litigious society, there is also the potential to be slapped with a lawsuit.
Thankfully, if a lawsuit is frivolous, you’ll be protected by the personal training waiver your client signed when you started work with them.
Lawsuits against a personal training studio
You’ll always hear about the lawsuits against personal trainers that are successful – but not the ones that are thrown out due to the liability waivers signed by clients. Waivers act as a strong defense against lawsuits related to ordinary negligence. This includes personal injury related to risks inherent in an activity or a facility.
However, what they can’t protect against are claims of gross negligence – this means any action taken by a trainer that is deemed grossly irresponsible or reckless that endangers a client.
It’s important that all personal trainers know their legal rights and responsibilities, and take every precaution to cover themselves against legal liability.
What do I need to know about negligence?
Gross negligence is defined as “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.“ To prove self-negligence in a court of law, the plaintiff will have to present a case along with the following:
- DUTY: That you, as a trainer, had a legal duty to take reasonable precautions to protect the plaintiff from harm.
- BREACH: That legal duty was breached due to negligent activity.
- CAUSATION: Your action or inaction was the direct cause of the injury.
- DAMAGES: The plaintiff was harmed by your actions.
It’s important to note that it’s not only direct actions that can be considered negligent. Working when your certifications are expired or providing unqualified medical or supplementation advice are also examples of gross negligence.
Some examples of grossly negligent actions by a personal trainer include:
- Not providing proper first aid, despite holding your first aid certification
- Failing to renew your expired certifications
- Misrepresenting your qualifications to a client or employer
- Failure to block access to broken or damaged equipment
- Providing nutrition advice without being certified or without taking into account the client’s health or medical conditions
- Advising clients to take nutritional supplements
- Failure to make clients aware of any risk involved in activities you assign them
- Non-consensual physical manipulation, or physical interactions that directly causes physical or emotional harm to the client.
- Pushing a participant to perform an action that is beyond their current capability
- Pushing a participant to perform a damaging workout despite knowledge of a pre-existing condition
It is your responsibility as a personal trainer to ensure you are providing a safe environment for your clients. To ensure you are exercising your duty of care, it’s important to identify and minimize risks through risk management.
We encourage you to read this comprehensive guide on how to put together a risk management plan for fitness professionals.
Examples of gross negligence lawsuits against personal trainers
Here are just two of the many cautionary tales related to gross negligence lawsuits out there for personal trainers.
Consider the case of Baldi-Perry v. Kiafas and 360 Fitness Center, Inc. In 2005, Linda Baldi-Perry had undergone a cervical fusion procedure, and she was advised to stay active to prevent future neck issues. She engaged a personal trainer at 360 Fitness Center, and fully explained her medical history, but the trainer designed an intense workout for her that ultimately caused her more permanent damage.
The court ultimately ruled that the trainer was 70% responsible, while she was 30% – but this still equated to the defendants having to shell out $1.4 million in damages.
Another case to keep in mind, which sadly involved the death of a client, is that of the Family of Anne Marie Capati v. Crunch Fitness. Capati was working out under a personal trainer who allegedly had advised her to take nutritional supplements, which then allegedly caused her to suffer a deadly stroke because she also took medication for hypertension.
The lawsuit also alleged that the trainer in question was “untrained in the field of nutrition and dietary supplements.” The family was awarded $1.5 million in damages.
Naturally, you don’t want to end up in a similar situation to these. So take heart.
You can also read the case files for Hinkal v. Pardoe and Evans v. Fitness & Sports Clubs, LLC. While both of these cases ultimately went to court, the wording in the waiver signed by the client ultimately had the court side with the trainer during the proceedings.
If I work for a gym, do I need my own waiver?
It is highly recommended that you have your own waiver and insurance, even if you work at a gym that has clients sign waivers. While you’ll be covered by their insurance, there are potentially some limitations there.
For example, if you are specifically named as a defendant in legal proceedings, their waivers and insurance may not fully cover you. Some gyms also include waivers in their member agreements but stand-alone waivers that are separate from member agreements are proven to stand up better in court.
If you do work with a gym, it should go without saying that any clients you accept outside of your working relationship with the gym are your legal responsibility.
How to write a rock-solid personal training waiver
When your client signs an exercise waiver and release form, they are agreeing to the terms in that document. This includes the assumption of risk and their waiving of the right to sue.
However, a liability waiver is only as good as the language used.
As this is a legal contract, you need to ensure the included clauses and phrasing will be interpreted in your favor by a court of law. Waiver laws are also drastically different in every country or state/province, so all waivers should be written or reviewed by local legal professionals to ensure there is no ambiguity in the wording.
Here are some guidelines for an effective waiver provided by Borden Ladner Gervais LLP:
- the waiver must be a clearly written agreement;
- the waiver’s language must be clear, unambiguous and easily understood by the average person;
- the waiver must clearly inform the participant that they are giving up their legal right to any and all future claims against you;
- the waiver must clearly exclude liability for risks or injuries caused by negligence, and must clearly apply to the circumstances of the accident;
- the signing party’s attention must be directed to the provision protecting the organization from liability, regardless of whether the waiver was signed;
- the waiver must be brought to the attention of the participant before they agree to participate;
- the participant must be free to choose to accept the terms.
When presenting a waiver to your clients, encourage them to read it in full, but also use the opportunity to fully explain how you will keep them safe while helping them achieve their fitness goals.
Stay fully compliant by using an electronic waiver solution
It’s not enough to simply have waivers signed – they need to be filed and stored for years, and you need to be able to find specific waivers at a moment’s notice.
So why use an antique paper filing system when you can maintain an easy online waiver database?
WaiverForever is an electronic waiver solution that does away with paper and allows you to store your online waivers permanently in the cloud. Have your customers sign waivers on a desktop computer, on our dedicated waiver app / waiver kiosk solution, or in advance of a class via email.
Plus, WaiverForever supports waiver integration with various fitness and exercise SaaS apps, including top partners like MindBody.
Our starter plan is completely free and includes access to our tools including our customer management system and analytics dashboard. And when you sign up, if you’re not 100% satisfied, we provide a money-back guarantee.
So why wait? Try WaiverForever today and make sure your fitness business is fully compliant and secure in case of a lawsuit.