Part II: Creating a Culture of Safety
If a member sues your health club for gym negligence, how can you fight the case? Can you create a solid defense that will help you successfully fend off, or at least survive, a lawsuit? To explore these questions, we interviewed an expert in risk management and fitness liability JoAnn Eickhoff-Shemek. Dr. JES, as she is known, spoke with us on our podcast recently, enlightening our team on the critical steps every gym owner can take to reduce their chances of a gym lawsuit.
In Part I, we covered waivers, assumption-of-risk documentation and group training. In Part II, we explore the ways gyms can lessen their exposure to lawsuits by creating a culture of safety.
Where to start with protecting your gym from lawsuits.
It all begins with understanding the two key points every judge considers when determining liability: the type of participant and the nature of the activity. When a gym builds risk management into its everyday processes and creates a culture of safety, these two factors are less likely to collide into a lawsuit.
For example, Dr. JES discussed a case where a personal trainer coached a client with osteoporosis. In spite of knowing the member suffered from osteoporosis, the trainer asked her to do jumping repetitions on a BOSU ball. The client fell, fractured her ankle, and sued the trainer and the facility.
Where did the personal trainer go wrong? He or she should have referred this client to a trainer with knowledge in designing and delivering training programs for individuals with osteoporosis. The trainer was working outside of his scope of practice.
Here are three steps to protect your gym from lawsuits and damages:
Step 1. Be prepared — create a rock solid risk management plan.
A good risk management plan details how your gym and its staff will follow the law. Its objective is to create a culture of safety within your club. But, just as important — if followed, it acts as proof before judges and insurance companies that you’ve done your best to keep members and employees safe. This comprehensive document covers all your policies and procedures for the entire health club.
However, you should not go it alone. Instead, compile a key group of advisors made up of an attorney, an insurance expert, medical specialists, and other professions applicable to your style of club. These experts will guide and help build a comprehensive, solid risk management system.
Step 2. Follow basic safety protocols.
- Members must sign waivers, and/or assumption of risk documentation. Although not perfect, a well-written waiver is one of the fastest ways to a case dismissal, even in the face of negligence.
- Train employees well. This cast of employees ranges from front desk staff to floor supervisors and personal trainers or group instructors. Everyone should understand how to approach members, their own scope of practice, and the documentation expected of their position.
- Prove what you say. In risk management, a little paperwork goes a long way.
- Keep equipment maintenance logs.
- Create a checklist for beginners. Keep it in their files.
- Establish a reflection/evaluation process for group classes.
- Build a legally sound process for revoking memberships.
Step 3. Read your insurance contract carefully.
Sometimes the waiver defense and assumption-of-risk defenses fail, and your business is held liable for an incident that occurred at your health club. In this case, it is best to be certain you are covered by adequate liability insurance. The policy should apply to all the services and programs offered by your gym.
Too many gym managers skim through their insurance contracts and forget to check the exclusions. It is here, in the fine print, that your insurance company may deny a claim, leaving you exposed to a liability lawsuit.
If you sweat the details, then you’re doing your best.
Staying within the law and running a gym can seem like a daunting task, but it can be done. We’ve brought you Dr. JES as a starting point to help our gym owners understand how to protect their clubs from lawsuits. To listen to the complete interview, go to our YouTube channel. The Gym Owners Podcast.
Now it’s your job to educate yourself.
We recommend you subscribe to Dr. JES’s Fitness Law Academy newsletter and consider reading her textbook, “Law for Fitness Managers and Exercise Professionals.” It is 500+ pages of sample cases and gym management advice worth reviewing. Also, search our website for additional blogs covering risk management. They are a great starting point for any owner.
Thanks for reading our blog! If you found DR. JES interesting and feel you have fitness industry expertise to share, we’d love to hear from you. We’re a gym management software company designing the best, easiest-to-use member management tools in the business. Contact us at 1-855-FOR-GYMS and speak to our awesome sales team, Natalia or Anthony. They can hook you up with our podcast “The Gym Owners Podcast,” where we discuss what it takes to run a successful fitness center. Thanks for reading our blog and see you next week!