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A Guide to Personal Trainer Liability Insurance

Dr. Scott Cheatham 0

For personal trainers, having professional liability insurance can protect against legal claims made by a client if something unfortunate happens. Whether you are independent or employed, having liability insurance is a necessity.

Certain employers require fitness professionals to have their own liability insurance even though they are under the company's insurance. In either case, fitness professionals need to understand how liability insurance can provide legal protection if an unfortunate incident occurs.

This article is a must-read for newly certified professionals, corrective exercise specialists, nutrition coaches, and beyond. It is also a useful review for existing professionals. An overview of the following topics with be discussed:

  • Negligence
  • Liability insurance
  • Strategies for reducing legal risk

negligence and personal training

During a training session, a CPT is responsible for the proper instruction, care, and safety of the client, which is an industry-standard. This liability standard puts the responsibility on the fitness professional due to the assumption that they are qualified to train the individual.

Potential unfortunate incidents that can occur include but are not limited to:

1) injury from improper instruction

2) injury from a recommended exercise or program

3) client dissatisfaction with training services

4) a post-exercise injury from overtraining.

If an unfortunate incident occurs, resulting in harm to the client (e.g., injury), it's called negligence. Negligence is the failure to provide the degree of knowledge, care, or skills that is standard among all similar professionals (Brent, 1990).

More simply, the fitness professional has a legal obligation to care for the client within industry standards. If a departure from the standard of care occurs that results in injury or loss, then the client may have legal recourse if they can prove negligence.

What Are The Four Elements of Negligence?

In the U.S. legal system, negligence is proven by four elements (Ronquillo et al., 2020).

1) The professional's duty was to care for their client during the training session/s. This includes standards such as but not limited to, proper instruction, supervision, creating a safe exercise program, and ensuring a safe environment.

2) A breach of duty was committed that resulted in client injury or some type of loss.

3) The breach of duty was a direct cause of the client's injury or loss.

4) The client suffered harm due to the breach of duty, which was the direct cause 

These four element are represented in the table below:

 Table 1. Four Elements of Negligence

Duty

Legal obligation to the client

Breach

A departure from the standard of care

Cause

The violation or departure resulted in harm

Harm

Client suffered harm due to the breach

 

During a legal claim, the client (e.g., plaintiff) will seek the services of a lawyer that may file a civil lawsuit claiming negligence by the professional that resulted in the client's injury or loss. Most often, the fitness professional (e.g., defendant) must retain the services of a lawyer to deal with the lawsuit.

The time and legal costs can be financially devastating for the fitness professional. Therefore, it is recommended for fitness professionals to protect themselves by having liability insurance. 

What is professional liability insurance (errors and omission)?

Professional liability insurance or "errors and omission insurance" provides protection for legal claims made against the professional and business.  Professional liability insurance typically protects against negligence and the following: personal injury (e.g., libel or slander), bodily injury, property damage to others, sexual misconduct, temporary staff, and independent contractors, and licensing board investigation.

For example, a client may have gotten injured during a training session and decides to file a lawsuit against the professional, business, or both.

Other services covered may include legal defense, medical expenses, and earnings loss for attending legal proceedings. The typical annual insurance policy limits include 1 million per claim/3 million aggregate limit.

Thus, the insurance company will pay up to 1 million dollars for the services noted above per each claim and up to 3 million dollars total for the policy (Table 2). Most insurance carriers do provide higher limits and additional coverage, such as consulting services, which may result in a higher annual premium.  

what is General liability insurance?

General liability or commercial liability protects the place of business. General liability covers property damage and physical risks such a slip and fall. This is different than professional liability, which covers services provided by the professional.

The typical general liability insurance policy limits include 1 million per claim/1 million aggregate limit (Table 2). Businesses will need to determine the optimal coverage amount to protect themselves, which may result in a higher annual premium.

the difference between professional liability and general liability insurance

In general, there are two types of liability insurance used by fitness professionals: professional liability and general liability.

Table 2. Types of Insurance Coverage

Type of Insurance

Type of Coverage

Common policy limits (dollars)

Professional Liability

Professional services

1 million per claim/3 million aggregate limit.

General Liability

Place of business

1 million per claim/1 million aggregate limit

 

This section provides a brief introduction to liability insurance. The fitness professional should consult with their existing or potential insurance carrier regarding the best type of policy for their business. Consulting a legal professional may be necessary if more comprehensive legal advice is required.

How to Reduce Legal Risks as a Personal Trainer

Despite fitness professionals' best efforts to ensure client safety and satisfaction, lawsuits can be an unfortunate possibility. 

Fitness professionals can protect themselves by having liability insurance but also can follow "best practices" within industry standards to ensure client safety and satisfaction. One of the easiest ways to remember these best practices is with the pneumonic: FITTER. These steps are noted below:

F: Focus. Focus on the client or group of clients during the training session by properly instructing and supervising them with all activity. This will help to provide a safe environment. Don't get distracted during their program since it can lead to injury due to a lack of supervision (Gray & Finch, 2015).

I: Informed consent. Make sure you get verbal and written informed consent from the client/s before their training program begins (Cocanour, 2017). This will ensure that all parties are on the same page with client goals, exercise programming, potential risks, medical clearances, etc.    

T: Time. Leave a reasonable amount of time between training sessions so you can take a break, transition, and focus on each client—the potential to make mistakes increases when the professional is in a hurry and rushing between clients.

T: Test. Test your clients regularly to track their progress and keep them motivated. It is recommended to retest clients every 4-6 weeks to track their progress and modify activity accordingly. During this time, the client can also share their opinions about their program and any desired changes. The recheck creates a collaborative process that involves all parties in the decision-making process, helping to build that relationship. Researchers have found that a good relationship between the professional and client can reduce the likelihood of a lawsuit if an unfortunate incident occurs (Huntington & Kuhn, 2003).

E: Educate yourself. It is essential to stay current with the latest research, trends, and training techniques in the health and fitness industry. Keeping all fitness related certifications current is important for professional practice. Researchers have found that higher injury rates occur when individuals are trained by unqualified professionals (Bianchi et al., 2020; da Costa et al., 2019). Thus, it is essential to provide the best care by staying current with education.   

R: Record. Legal experts often recommend recording each client session using pertinent details such as but not limited to client personal information, exercises performed, acute variables, client education, any occurrences during training, and plan for the next session.

A common phrase used among professionals is that "if it wasn't documented, it didn't happen," which illustrates the need to record each client session (Ethicist, 2016). Good record keeping can help the professional to recall any details of past training sessions.

Accurate records may provide another layer of legal protection but need to be kept confidential due to HIPPA laws (Edemekong et al., 2020). Fitness professionals are considered part of healthcare.         

Resources for personal trainer insurance

The fitness professional is referred to the following NASM webpage that provides liability insurance resources for members.

Here is the link: https://www.nasm.org/resources/insurance

Conclusion

This article provides a brief overview of negligence, liability insurance, and reducing legal risk. The fitness professional is encouraged to consult with their current or potential insurance carrier to determine the best insurance policy for their business.

A legal professional can also be asked if more comprehensive advice is required. Liability insurance is a standard in the fitness industry. Every fitness professional should have liability insurance to protect themselves in case an unfortunate incident occurs.

References

Bianchi, F. P., Labbate, M., Castellana, M., Stefanizzi, P., De Nitto, S., Notarnicola, A., & Tafuri, S. (2020, Mar). Epidemiology of injuries among amateur athletes who attended fitness activities: the role of the qualification of the trainer. J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 60(3), 422-427. https://doi.org/10.23736/s0022-4707.19.10068-0

Brent, N. J. (1990, Sep-Oct). Avoiding professional negligence: a review. Home Healthc Nurse, 8(5), 45-47. https://doi.org/10.1097/00004045-199009000-00010

Cocanour, C. S. (2017, Dec). Informed consent-It's more than a signature on a piece of paper. Am J Surg, 214(6), 993-997. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjsurg.2017.09.015

da Costa, T. S., Louzada, C. T. N., Miyashita, G. K., da Silva, P. H. J., Sungaila, H. Y. F., Lara, P. H. S., Pochini, A. C., Ejnisman, B., Cohen, M., & Arliani, G. G. (2019). CrossFit®: Injury prevalence and main risk factors. Clinics (Sao Paulo), 74, e1402. https://doi.org/10.6061/clinics/2019/e1402

Edemekong, P. F., Annamaraju, P., & Haydel, M. J. (2020). Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing

Copyright © 2020, StatPearls Publishing LLC.

Ethicist, P. (2016, Apr). If It Wasn't Documented, It Didn't Happen . . . or Did It? J Empir Res Hum Res Ethics, 11(2), 199-200. https://doi.org/10.1177/1556264616654055

Gray, S. E., & Finch, C. F. (2015). The causes of injuries sustained at fitness facilities presenting to Victorian emergency departments - identifying the main culprits. Injury epidemiology, 2(1), 6-6. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40621-015-0037-4

Huntington, B., & Kuhn, N. (2003). Communication gaffes: a root cause of malpractice claims. Proceedings (Baylor University. Medical Center), 16(2), 157-161. https://doi.org/10.1080/08998280.2003.11927898

Ronquillo, Y., Robinson, K. J., & Nouhan, P. P. (2020). Expert Witness. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing

Copyright © 2020, StatPearls Publishing LLC.

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The Author

Dr. Scott Cheatham

Dr. Scott Cheatham has a PhD in Physical Therapy and is an Associate Professor in the Division of Kinesiology at California State University Dominguez Hills in Carson, California. He is owner of Sports Medicine Alliance (SMA). He also holds several fitness certifications and is a certified ergonomic specialist. He has also authored 100+ publications on a wide range of subjects including: health, fitness, orthopedics, and sports medicine. Additionally, Dr. Scott Cheatham is a NASM Corrective Exercise Specialist and Performance Enhancement Specialist.