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Risk Management

How to Minimize Your Legal Exposure to Slip and Fall Claims

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Paul R. Bedard, EsquirePaul R. Bedard, Esquire

It's no secret that these are competitive times for the health and fitness club industry. Given the effort required to generate increased revenues, it can be challenging to find time to develop a sound risk management strategy. However, whether training your people to effectively respond to a medical emergency, designing your employment practices to minimize the likelihood of an employment dispute or methodically inspecting and maintaining your premises to mitigate your exposure to premises liability claims, you must be proactive from a risk management standpoint.

This article is the first in a series that will explain in reasonable detail the most common legal risks within the health and fitness club industry and how you can minimize your exposure to these risks. However, these articles are not intended as legal advice. Widely varying laws and precedents specific to each jurisdiction prohibit one-size-fits-all recommendations. Please consider these comments as merely an educational guide to assist you when you consult your own attorney for specific direction.

This is the time of year when many clubs see an increased number of slip and fall claims, often as a result of personal injuries suffered on snow, ice or wet entrance flooring. However, these claims can also include but are not limited to trips over floor surfaces or equipment within your club, falls on interior stairs or accidents in and around typically wet areas, such as locker rooms, showers and pool decks.

A slip and fall claim is a negligence claim. More specifically, a slip and fall claim is a premises liability claim. The four elements the plaintiff must prove in a slip and fall case are duty, breach, causation and damages. By having an understanding of these legal elements, you can proactively minimize your exposure to these claims while protecting the wellbeing of your members and guests.

Premises liability represents one of the greatest areas of legal exposure for health and fitness club owners and operators. As a baseline measure of protection for your club, it is imperative that you have a comprehensive yet not overly broad liability waiver. At a minimum, your waiver should expressly bar claims due to employee negligence, identify potentially dangerous activities and inherent risks within your facility, detail the assumption of risk on the part of the member or guest and be in clear and conspicuous language.

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