How to Avoid Negligence Lawsuits: Scope of Practice (Part III)

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  • How to Avoid Negligence Lawsuits: Scope of Practice (Part III)

Interview with Dr. JoAnn Eickoff-Shemek, “Dr. JES,” professor emerita, University of South Florida, expert fitness and law witness, and national spokesperson. Podcast: “The Power of Control: Dr. JES Returns”

We’ve dedicated the last two blogs to avoiding gym negligence lawsuits. How to steer clear of legal landmines, and training staff to properly guide members on their fitness journey. Now we are at the final leg – scope of practice. Here, we discuss that wafer-thin line between offering good nutritional advice and stepping outside one’s field of expertise. 

When too much good advice lands you in hot water. 

In one case Dr. JES recalled, a personal trainer suggested a client ice a sore muscle, even though they were complaining of extreme post-workout pain and dark urine. His decision to offer advice – “ice it!” – versus “call a doctor,” amounted to a form of a diagnosis. “Oh, you’re not that bad. Just keep it under ice,” he seemed to be thinking. In this case, the member ended up with Exercise Rhabdomyolysis and the club lost a multi-million-dollar lawsuit.

Ouch. That’s painful. 

So what can you do to keep employees/trainers within their scope of practice? 

  1. Educate yourself. Read through Dr. JES’s “Drawing the Line” (link below) for daily tactics. Stay informed through the ACSM website Health & Fitness Journal.
  2. Develop a written club policy on nutrition, medical issues, medical questions. 
  3. Practice appropriate responses with your staff in regular meetings. This can be done by asking questions to see if their answer falls within your policy. 
  4. Coach trainers to accept clients within their area of training. Urge them not to take on clients with complex medical conditions if they are not trained to modify programs appropriately. 

What is the most common area in which trainers overstep their scope of practice?

Where else? Nutrition. Depending on the state within which your club resides, the laws surrounding dietetics and nutritional counseling can be very strict. Practicing dietetics without a license can amount to a criminal offense. Typical negligence lawsuits fall under the civil category – money paid for injuries caused. But in the case of nutrition, the courts are stricter, as breaking state licensing laws can result in fines and criminal charges.

The article listed below, “Nutrition and the Exercise Professional’s Scope of Practice,” provides an excellent bullet-point comparison between nutrition and dietetics counseling, and general (nonmedical) nutrition information.

Registered dietitians and nutritionists are professionally trained and licensed to provide nutritional assessments, as well as recommend diets, such as meal plans. Their education includes medical conditions, medications and how these interact with diet. An exercise professional may know none of this. Which why it can be dangerous for a trainer to give nutritional advice. 

Your staff should take great care in recommending supplements as well. Many interfere with medications. Rather than discussing a specific supplement, trainers may guide clients to government websites, or their physician or dietician.  

Final Thoughts on Avoiding Negligence Lawsuits

Coaching employees, educating yourself, and arming your business with written policies can seem like daunting, unnecessary steps. But consider the alternative. An active lawsuit is a nasty thing. It can take three to five years for a lawsuit to get to trial. During the discovery phase, the plaintiff’s attorney will ask for every manner of documents. Dr. JES recalls one that generated 750 pages of documents. You or your staff may have to answer questions under oath. And watch out if the media uncovers your case. Your gym many never recover its reputation.

With lawsuits, the personal stress, time invested, and potential for brand damage are immeasurable. Don’t let this happen to you. Think. Prepare. Respond. Take these three actions, and you may just avoid becoming caught in a negligence lawsuit. 

Gym Insight

Gosh, just what do negligence lawsuits have to do with gym management software? Well, a lot, as far as we are concerned. With our Sales Guru© software, new members submit waiver and legal documents immediately upon signing up. Then, the forms are digitally stored for easy retrieval. Our task management features create the perfect tool for keeping employees busy, and gyms safe and orderly. Class scheduling allows for a full view of instructor schedules. Good, well-organized, easy-to-use software makes it simpler for you to effectively manage your gym. We are here to help you achieve that goal.

For more information, visit our social media pages, YouTube Gym Owner’s Podcast, or call Anthony or Natalie at 855-FOR GYMS. Our sales team would love to walk you through a demo of our member management software.

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