October 2023 Gym Owner’s Podcast, “The Power of Control: Dr. JES Returns.”
How can gym owners avoid becoming embroiled in a negligence lawsuit?
Savvy business professionals recognize that all manner of legal claims have increased in frequency over the years. But how can a small business, like a fitness club, avoid becoming embroiled in a negligence lawsuit? Proactive gym owners can sidestep potential negligence lawsuits by rethinking their hiring and member management strategies. Attaining a waiver signature is not enough protection. As discussed in previous blogs and podcasts, the waiver law defense only comes into play after an injury has occurred.
But waivers do nothing to stop a lawsuit from hitting your doorstep.
Why do we keep writing about gym lawsuits?
We believe lawsuits are a big concern for our fitness club owners. Our goal is to provide a deeper understanding of how you can protect your livelihood through discussions with experts in legal liability. To achieve this, we’ve turned to Dr. JoAnn Eickoff-Shemek, “Dr. JES”, professor emerita, University of South Florida, expert fitness and law witness, national spokesperson, and author.
Today, we regularly read about multi-million-dollar settlements in negligence lawsuits. For example, the California State University system paid a $39.5 million settlement after a student suffered a severe heat-related injury during a jogging class. As a result, Cal State developed policies and protocols for preventing and responding to heat-related injuries.
Cal State’s decision to (reactively) create prevention policies for high-risk situations is one proactive step a gym owner can take. No gym owner or organization wants to hurt one of its members. However, without having the right plan in place for preventing injuries, making a costly, dangerous mistake is all too possible.
Negligence Lawsuits 101: Breach of Duty
To create a safer environment in your gym and avoid lawsuits wherever possible, you must first understand how the court system determines fault. To win a case, the plaintiff must prove the four elements of breach of duty.
What is breach of duty?
A breach of duty is a legal obligation to do or not do something.
The four elements are:
1. Obligation: that the defendant owed the plaintiff some duty;
2. Evidence of the breach of duty;
3. Proof of injury;
4. Causation: that this breach of duty caused the injury.
The hardest part to prove in a negligence lawsuit is causation. Here’s where a properly prepared and managed gym is your best defense.
What’s the most common reason for a gym lawsuit?
Most negligence lawsuits occur due to improper program instruction or delivery, given the individual’s health and fitness status. Rather than malfunctioning equipment, most civil lawsuits stem from one-on-one interactions gone awry.
How do courts determine if I am negligent?
Courts consider both the conduct and skill level of the trainer – were they properly prepared to design or instruct the exercise program? Courts are more concerned with a trainer or instructor’s actions or conduct than with their formal fitness certifications.
Judges know exercise certification exams vary significantly in length and complexity. However, they also understand that no certification requires an applicant to possess formal education or practical training.
The gym owner is responsible for training and preparing instructors before they run a class or counsel a client.
Uninformed personal trainers can cost you millions of dollars
In one case, Dr. JES’ cites, a personal trainer instructed a new client to undertake a strenuous leg workout even though he was at novice-level fitness. The next day, the client calls the trainer and stated he has severe leg pain and dark urine. The trainer suggested he put ice on the leg. The client’s pain continued to worsen, and he was subsequently diagnosed with Exercise Rhabdomyolysis. The client sued and settled out of court.
In this case, the personal trainer’s action reflected a lack of both education and practical knowledge skills. However, it went further than that. Disregarding the client’s concerns, he essentially made a diagnosis and stepped outside his scope of practice. A properly coached and instructed trainer would have recognized their duty to refer the client to a physician.
Staff Training and Properly Progressing Members — Part II
In our next installment of “How to Avoid Negligence Lawsuits,” we cover Dr. JES’s discussion on adequately preparing your staff, members, and facility before class begins! It’s going to be an informative ride – Join us next week.
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Watch for our upcoming Negligence Lawsuit blogs:
- How to Avoid Negligence Lawsuits – Selecting & Training Staff Part II
- How to Avoid Negligence Lawsuits — Scope of Practice, Part III