There has been a dramatic increase in the number of people joining gyms and health clubs in recent years. Along with this increase in patronization has come a growing number of personal injuries to their users. These often stem from several factors, including the condition of the premises or equipment, the quality of instruction or supervision provided by personnel of the establishment, or the inexperience or poor physical condition of the user themself.
Injuries Caused By Defects In The Premises
It has been uniformly recognized that, as with any business establishment, the proprietor of a health club or spa owes its members a duty of reasonable care to inspect the premises to discover dangerous conditions and correct such conditions or warn people of the danger. A slippery floor or step is one of the most common sources of injury on the premises of a health club or similar establishment.
Several factors determine liability:
- The nature and uses of the area where the surface is located
- The patron’s knowledge or ignorance of its condition
- Acts or omissions the proprietor commits in creating or attempting to remedy the condition.
Injuries Caused By Defects In The Equipment
The defective condition of exercise equipment or other similar items can also cause injury to a health club patron. A lawsuit for defects in the equipment also includes negligent instruction or supervision in the use of the equipment or performance of certain exercises. The existence of a duty to supervise and the extent of supervision required depends on the particular circumstances. In making these determinations, the plaintiff’s age, intelligence, and experience are often considered.
These types of insurance claims can either be the facility’s responsibility or the equipment’s manufacturer. Clubs and studios should inspect and service their equipment according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Group exercise classes include everything from the steps, bands, balls, and barbells to the strength training and cardio equipment. If the design of a machine is responsible for an injury, the manufacturer will be held liable. A fitness professional may be involved in these claims if it is alleged that the instructor knew the treads on steps were worn down, for example, or if the trainer knew the equipment was not working.
Fitness professionals have the greatest exposure here. Group X instructors, yoga & pilates instructors, and personal trainers are held accountable for the things they say, do, and fail to do. The actual teaching and instruction they do in a class or session, as well as the advice they provide, such as nutritional counseling, is included in this. The most common form of professional liability claims occurs when a member or client is injured and claims the trainer or instructor failed to teach them how to properly use a piece of equipment.
Fitness professionals are also at risk for allegations of sexual abuse and molestation. Trainers and instructors work closely with their clients, so they are open to claims of improper touching, overly familiar language, or inappropriate comments. This exposure increases dramatically when working with minors.
Typical Health Club Injuries from Poor Instruction
Poor instruction or supervision typically results in the following injuries:
- Muscular or skeletal strains,
- Cardiovascular problems,
- Anxiety, depression,
- Mental suffering,
- Accidents resulting from collisions
- Various medical conditions
The injuries caused by poor quality instruction or poor supervision have even been extended to negligent recommendations regarding diet and exercise plans.
Factors that May Show Instructor Liability
Multiple factors may be considered by a court when determining whether a lawsuit for inadequate instruction or supervision is justified:
- A patron’s age, maturity, experience, ability level, and physical condition
- If the activity involved required a warm-up,
- If the activity involved was one which the patron would likely be qualified to engage,
- If the patron was warned about any possible risks,
- If the instructor or supervisor showed the patron the activity themselves, or
- Guidelines, authority, or education an instructor or supervisor was working with.
An emergency in a health club can be caused by accidents, pre-existing health conditions, and other factors. Administering emergency care involves legal issues. To protect yourself, your staff, and your health club from liability, you must first understand the risks.
There is a certain level of immunity from liability under “Good Samaritan” legislation, but it only applies to negligence. It does not apply to reckless or grossly negligent conduct. Good Samaritan immunity is based on two requirements:
- During an emergency, immediate aid must be provided.
- Those providing emergency care must have good faith in their intentions to assist the victim.
- In some cases, immunity can be denied if there is evidence that the motive was monetary compensation or media attention.
There are different laws governing good Samaritans in each state, so make sure you and your staff are familiar with the legislation in your state.
Use of Automated External Defibrillator (AED)
Certain businesses are required to house AEDs. Some of these places are school buildings, airports, medical facilities, and public swimming pools. The legislation governing which businesses must provide AEDs differs from state to state. The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association recommends that these devices be located in health clubs with more than 2,500 members, offer programs for high-risk clients, or are in areas where emergency response time is typically longer than five minutes.
If your club decides to house an AED, be aware that it will be subject to mandatory legal obligations.
Make sure your staff members are up-to-date on their fitness certifications. Staff certifications that have expired make you and your facility vulnerable to claims of misrepresentation. Most clubs post a list of their qualified staff members. Any gaps in certification can be perceived as misleading.
You can prevent lawsuits by following these steps:
- Establish a system for tracking the expiration dates for all employee and independent contractor certifications
- Periodically remind staff to renew certifications in staff meetings, memos, or emails.
- Staff should be made aware of the potential legal consequences of non-compliance.
- Provide incentives for keeping certifications current, and penalize employees or independent contractors who collect fees during periods of lapsed certification.
The purpose of releases/waivers is to protect health clubs and their owners and staff from negligence claims. However, they do not protect against grossly negligent or reckless conduct. The facility and its staff should be protected by a separate waiver/release agreement for all members.
The Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act aims to ensure that businesses accommodate disabled individuals to the best of their ability. A reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment that enables a disabled person to participate in the day-to-day operations of a facility.
It can be as simple as providing extra assistance for disabled members, such as assistance in transferring from a wheelchair to seated equipment or posting large print signs for the visually impaired. Fitness facilities are not required to alter operating procedures fundamentally that could endanger others’ safety under the ADA.
Should I Contact An Attorney If I Have Been Injured In A Health Club?
Many health club membership contracts contain disclaimers or releases stating that you assume all risks of injury. Take the first steps towards recovering by contacting a personal injury attorney who can explain your rights and determine if you can recover damages for your injuries.