Insurance: How to Protect Yourself as a Personal Trainer

Jennifer Urmston Lowe | 21 Feb 2017

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Insurance is vitally important to your business because Personal Trainers are at risk for claims every day. Those claims can come from their actual actions, spoken words, a lack of proper instruction and a number of other exposures including personal injury, cyber liability and sexual abuse. There are effective means by which personal trainers can protect themselves.

1. Know the Different Types of Liability Claims

Personal trainers are primarily liable for their own professional liability. That means their own services as a fitness professional, rather than the premises liability of the facility where they train. Professional liability claims today can come from the fitness professional’s actions, instruction, fitness and nutritional counseling and coaching, or a lack of any one of these plus a number of other exposures including personal injury, cyber liability and sexual abuse. An injured party can claim bodily injury, personal injury or sexual abuse.

Bodily injury can be a physical injury or physical illness and can include medical bills, loss of work and/or pain and suffering. These are the most frequent liability claims in Fitness Insurance Programs.

Personal injury includes claims of libel, slander and wrongful invasion of privacy. Libel is defined as defamation by written or printed words or images including electronic media. Slander is defined as defamation by spoken word. Invasion of Privacy involves the violation of a person’s right to be left alone. This may include harassment or the improper sharing of client information.

Cyber Liability is a term used for the liability of using electronic media in advertising and promotions that can result in libel or invasion of privacy claims. This can include the unauthorized use of a client’s name or photo on either a website or social media. With the huge growth of all forms of social media in the advertising and promotion for personal training businesses, this exposure produces the most questions today from both fitness professionals and fitness facilities.

Advertising Liability claims can arise out of misappropriation of advertising ideas, such as the infringement of copyright on established brands, titles or slogans committed in the course of advertising your services. This type of liability has increased with social media posts and use of copyrighted material pulled from the internet.

The potential of a claim for Sexual Abuse is another serious exposure for personal trainers. A client can misinterpret actions or words and claim sexual misconduct or slander with the personal trainer having no idea what they did or said to offend the client. These types of claims can be expensive to fight.

If a personal trainer is selling any products, such as nutritional supplements, then they have an exposure for Product Liability.

2. Know the Most Common Claims that Involve Personal Trainers

The most common claim is a failure to instruct. This occurs when a client claims that their personal trainer did not tell them how to do an exercise properly resulting in an injury.

The second most common, and usually far more costly claims, occur when a client suffers a serious injury or illness as a result of a pre-existing injury or condition that their trainer was either not aware of or had not properly taken into consideration when designing their fitness regimen.

3. Carrying Appropriate Liability Insurance

Appropriate insurance coverage should include all of the coverage included above, including Professional Liability with a definition that includes nutritional counseling, Products and Completed Operations Liability, Personal and Advertising Injury, Cyber Liability and Sexual Abuse and Molestation. A policy tailored to fitness professionals should also include General Liability so that they have coverage in their own name for premises exposures in the event they are ever a party to a slip and fall or other premises related claim.

Additionally, a personal trainer should select liability coverage that is written on an Occurrence Based Form rather than a Claims Made form. An Occurrence policy protects the trainer from any covered incident that “occurs” during the policy period, regardless of when the claim is filed.  An occurrence policy will respond to claims that are reported even after the policy has been cancelled or non-renewed, as long as the incident occurred during the period in which the coverage was in force. Claims-made policies provide coverage for claims only when BOTH the alleged incident AND the resulting claim filing happen during the period the policy is in force.  Coverage is provided as long as the insured maintains continuous, uninterrupted coverage.  A claims-made policy will cover claims after the coverage period only if the insured purchases extended reporting or “tail” coverage, which can become expensive.

4. Carrying Sufficient Liability Insurance

There are a number of important considerations for a personal trainer to review in determining what liability limits are sufficient for their business. The driving factor for most trainers is the insurance requirements of the facility(s) where they will work. Each personal trainer should also make sure they have enough insurance to protect their individual business and personal assets. The specific exposures of their business, such as, the populations they are training or the activities they engage in with their clients can significantly impact their risk and the amount of insurance they should purchase. For example, higher limits should potentially be selected when working with at risk populations or minors. The amount of nutritional counseling and nutritional product or supplement sales that a trainer engages in should also be considered. The following are industry standard limits:

$1,000,000 Each Occurrence

$2,000,000 General Aggregate

$1,000,000 Personal and Advertising Injury Limit

$1,000,000 Products and Completed Operations

NOTE: Higher limits and umbrella policies are also available from most insurance carriers that specialize in the fitness industry.

5. Implement a Hold Harmless Agreement

A properly written Hold Harmless Agreement or Liability Release or Waiver can transfer some of the risk back to the client.

Hold Harmless Agreements are waivers or liability release documents that are often a contract between a service provider and a participant that release the service provider for any liability for loss suffered by the participant as a result of “ordinary negligence” by the service provider.

The degree of enforceability for hold harmless agreements varies considerably by jurisdiction, depending on case history, state statutes, the application and legal status of involved parties (i.e. minors vs adults, etc.) Due to the difference in state laws, fitness professionals should consult a local attorney to help them develop or review their liability waiver language.

To help ensure the enforceability of a hold harmless agreement, it is critical that they meet this criterion:

  • Stand-alone documents
  • Clear and unambiguous language
  • Specifically state that by signing the participant relinquishes rights of recovery for the service providers “negligence”
  • Explicitly define the “risk inherent” to the participant

6. Review Your Liability Insurance Annually

After a personal trainer has appropriate and sufficient liability insurance in effect and they have developed their hold harmless agreement and health history document(s), they should continue to review their insurance needs each year when their insurance policy comes up for renewal and make sure that the coverage does not lapse. Updating their operations and exposures with their insurance representative will help ensure that they are covered for new programs and opportunities that develop with their client base.

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Jennifer Urmston Lowe

About the author: Jennifer Urmston Lowe

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 SFIC’s National Account Manager since then.

Prior to joining SFIC, Jennifer was the General Manager of two personal training fitness centers and three corporate wellness centers in the Charlotte, NC market. She became certified as a personal trainer in 1995 and has conducted thousands of training sessions and managed a staff of personal trainers.

Jennifer Graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.

As the daughter of John Urmston, former Chief Operating Officer of Nautilus, Chairman of the Fitness Products Counsel and Member of the President’s Counsel on Fitness, Jennifer grew up in the industry and began attending Nautilus Seminars in the 1980s.

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