Club Insider

Mitigating Liability Through the Proper Hiring, Training and Ongoing Certification of Employees

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Paul R. Bedard, EsquirePaul R. Bedard, Esquire

You've just signed up a new personal training client! A liability waiver has been executed and your new client has been placed with your head trainer! Other than failing to retain your new client, what could possibly go wrong? As I learned years ago when I would ask my law school professors which way a case should be decided, "It depends."

This article has been produced by request of Club Insider Publisher, Norm Cates, to help club owners and operators focus on important legal matters for their clubs and deal with them appropriately. This article will provide some proven suggestions to help mitigate your risk of negligence through the proper hiring, training and ongoing certification of employees. Given the legal case that's referenced herein, the suggestions that I'll provide are particularly applicable to personal trainers. However, most of these suggestions are applicable to all employees.

This article is not intended as legal advice because laws vary from state-to-state and local laws and case precedents are specific to each jurisdiction. And, factors that are truly unique to each situation prohibit one-size-fits-all recommendations. Please consider these comments as a guide to help you when you consult your own attorney for specific direction.

In simplified form, as a health club owner and operator, you have a duty to provide a reasonably safe fitness environment. To prevail on a negligence claim, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove specific facts that show you failed to provide this reasonably safe environment. What constitutes a breach of duty is determined by the specific facts of each particular case. You can help protect yourself in this important regard by constantly and preemptively focusing on key operational functions, including the proper hiring, training and ongoing certification of your employees.

Underscoring the importance of sound employee practices and procedures, a recent case here in Connecticut illustrates how a health club can be exposed to liability for negligence despite the existence of a properly executed liability waiver. Member Susan Butler, who signed such a liability waiver, broke her hip and wrist while working with her personal trainer, the club's head trainer, at a Planet Fitness location. Ms. Butler, who had a previously fused ankle, was instructed by her trainer to perform exercises on the platform side of a Bosu Ball. During this attempt, Ms. Butler was flung into the air and landed on her right hip and wrist. Her injuries required hip surgery and three wrist surgeries, as well as a 2-week hospital stay and rehabilitation.

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