I’ve been working with several great fitness businesses recently through my law firm, and there is one question that clients always ask without fail: how can I best shield myself from liability if one of my clients gets injured during a workout? While it’s impossible to fully insulate yourself from all liability, you can definitely take steps to protect yourself. Whether you train clients virtually, in person, or via DVD, there are four levels of protection that every fitness business owner should have in place:
- Form an LLC.
It is important that you shield your personal assets from the debts and liabilities of your business, and forming a limited liability company (LLC) is a great way to do that. In the eyes of the law, an LLC is a separate entity from you personally. Therefore, if your LLC is sued in the future, only the assets of the LLC—and not your personal assets—are at risk. Additional benefits of LLC’s include pass-through taxation (they are treated like sole-proprietorships), heightened credibility and minimal state compliance regulations. In Ohio, an LLC is created by filing Articles of Organization with the Secretary of State. The cost is only $125.
2. Utilize a great release.
As much as possible, require your clients to sign liability releases before participating in your programs. In Ohio, a clear and unambiguous release that relieves your business from liability for its own negligence will generally be upheld by courts. Moreover, a release of a cause of action for damages is ordinarily an absolute bar to a later lawsuit on any claim encompassed within the release. To be enforceable, a good release should (1) clear and unequivocal in every way, (2) state exactly which person/entity is being released from liability (you should include both your business and you personally) and (3) clearly outline the claims that are barred in the future. Courts in most jurisdictions tend to look favorably upon well-written releases, so do it right the first time!
3. Buy general liability insurance.
Every fitness business should buy general liability insurance. These traditionally broad policies insure against the risk that the insured may cause injury to clients or other third parties. You will need to check with a broker for quotes, but insurance for personal trainers and non-traditional fitness businesses is usually quite affordable.
4. Be nice.
This is the number one piece of advice I give my fitness business clients (and all my business clients). The best protection you can give yourself is to be friendly and accommodating. Even if you occasionally err, clients who like you will almost never sue you.
Please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to discuss how to best manage risk in your fitness business.
**The above blog post is not legal advice and should not be construed as such. Every business is different, so business owners should consult an attorney to determine which solutions might work best for them.