The vast majority of personal trainers entered the field because they care deeply about helping people. But many personal trainers do not realize that the teaching they give and information they share is held to a higher standard by our courts. By calling yourself a personal trainer, you are, in fact, holding yourself out as a professional. You are legally responsible for what you do or don’t do with a client and for the fitness advice that you give to others, whether they are a client or not. This is the reason that personal trainers need to carry professional liability insurance: to protect themselves.
Individual professional liability insurance coverage travels with the personal trainer wherever they train clients or speak to others. The policy is designed to defend the trainer in the event of a claim by paying medical bills of an injured person, legal costs for defense and paying settlements or lawsuit awards.
Are you convinced yet that personal trainers need to carry their own individual insurance policies? Are you curious about the type of claims that can possibly happen and do actually get filed with the courts?
Claims You May (and Should) Fear
First, there are the much-feared claims that arise when a trainer actually does do something “wrong,” such as recommending a fitness program or specific exercise that is inappropriate for their client’s health condition. The client is injured or becomes ill with a heart attack, seizure or stroke as a result. This is a very serious situation from which a lawsuit would naturally result. Most people cannot afford to defend themselves in a case like this, let alone pay out a large settlement. Most likely this will not happen to you, but it could, especially if a client has a pre-existing health condition that was not fully discussed when they initially became a client. It is also possible that the client’s health has changed since they last reviewed it with their trainer. In the insurance industry, we have seen actual claims similar to this that have resulted in serious injury and even death, leading to large monetary settlements and/or awards.
Read about common liability claims and how you can counter them>>
A second and very common potential claim is the one that arises after a client is injured and they claim that a trainer failed to properly instruct them on the use of a piece of equipment or the performance of an exercise. In a claim like this, it is the word of the client versus the word of the trainer. Even if there is signed documentation and witnesses, an injured person can still appear sympathetic to a jury. Trainers need to be aware that a claim of failure to provide instruction is a real liability for them because it can happen to any trainer in any club, at any time. Finally, a whole realm of claims can arise from what a fitness professional says inside or outside of the fitness center to clients, potential clients, friends, neighbors, co-workers or anyone who knows that they are a personal trainer. Have you found that just about everyone who knows that you are a trainer asks for your insight into their own fitness condition or weight loss woes? Offering recommendations for fitness routines, nutritional programs or medical care, whether the advice is given to a paying client or an acquaintance, can expose a personal trainer to liability if the recipient claims that they were injured as a result of that advice.
Time to Insure!
Are any of these potential claims worth losing your savings, your house or your car? What about your career and future or the future of your family? In the world that we all live in, it is necessary to carry professional liability insurance if you hold yourself out as any kind of recognizable professional. A benefit to the growing professionalism of our industry is that highly respected, A-rated insurance carriers now offer affordable individual professional liability insurance policies designed specifically for professional trainers.
If you work as an independent contractor, you most likely have no coverage at all on the health club’s general liability insurance policy because you are not an employee of the club. Most insurance agents would recommend that personal trainers carry their own personal professional liability policies, whether they are direct employees of a fitness center or independent contractors, so that they have coverage in or outside of the facility.
Note that professional liability insurance policies do not cover premises liability. If, therefore, a personal trainer intends to train clients inside their own facility, whether it is a studio or home, they need to carry general liability insurance to protect them from claims that might arise from the premises. This would include a slip-and-fall or equipment maintenance issues. Most commercial insurance carriers will not cover the premises liability of training clients in your home or residence. That exposure should be discussed with your personal insurance agent and added to your home owner’s policy, if possible.
I recommend that all personal trainers carry individual professional liability insurance continuously. The amount of coverage that you need should be determined by where you train, your clients and the assertions you make. It is also a very good idea to inquire about the liability insurance carried by any facility where you train clients because a facility’s lack of sufficient coverage can place additional liability on you. If you have any questions about insurance coverage or limits, seek the counsel of an experienced insurance agent.
Jennifer Urmston Lowe has been with Sports & Fitness Insurance (SFIC) as a licensed insurance agent, insuring health clubs and fitness centers since 1998. Jennifer helped her father, John Urmston, found the IHRSA Insurance Program for Property and Casualty Insurance in 1999. She has functioned as the National Account Manager for the IHRSA Program since then.