Most people have at least a vague sense of liability. It isn’t an inherently legal term. However, it plays a large role in the law. For our purposes, when helping to limit a gym’s legal exposure, we are primarily concerned with injury liability. In order to really understand injury liability, we have to understand some other core legal terms.
Similar to liability, most people have a conceptual understanding of Negligence. In the law, you can sue someone for negligence. That’s what you should be afraid of and worried about all the time. Is someone going to sue you for negligence? The legal concept of negligence has 4 elements: Duty, Breach, Causation, and Injury. If a client sues you for negligence, he/she must prove all 4 elements in order to win the legal case. So, let’s apply these elements to what you do everyday.
You, as a gym owner or trainer, have a duty not to hurt someone. You also have a duty not to expose someone to a situation that you have reason to believe might hurt them. This is all a bit vague. However, it means that you have to educate yourself as a professional, act as a professional, and be reasonable in what you prescribe. You have to be certified or receive a trainers certificate in what you offer. You need to complete continued education courses. You have to listen to clients when they tell you something hurts. When a client says they can’t do something, you need to be cautious about pushing them. You cannot give medical advice if you aren’t a doctor.
Despite being the greatest trainer in the world, the worst case scenario can happen and someone can get injured. Because your duty is simply not to hurt someone, any injury is instantly assumed to be a breach of this duty. You operate an inherently dangerous business. It comes with the territory.
The next element is causation. Did you breach your duty not to hurt someone when your member was injured, and did the breach directly cause the injury? Causation is a hot button legal topic. There are all kinds of causation like proximal causation and temporal causation. You don’t need to worry about what they mean. Simply understand that the more careful you are, the harder it is for an attorney to prove causation. The more you understand your clients, the more education you acquire, the more you scale and modify for the individual, the less likely it is you caused the injury.
This element is pretty simple. Was the member actually injured? If so, what was the injury? How serious was it? Assuming there was an injury, the less serious it was, the less impact it will have on you.
So, now that we understand negligence, what does it have to do with liability? The more you increase your likelihood of negligence, the more liability you have. Put another way, the more likely you are to injure a a client, the more liability you have.
The devil is in the details. Check your equipment regularly. Take your members through a long and extensive introduction process. Pay attention to what your staff is telling your members to do. Make sure you and your staff are educating yourselves on a continuing basis. In the end, the more informed you are, the better decisions you will make, and the less you will expose yourself to liability.