Delivering training sessions, whether they are one-on-one or small groups, is a rapidly growing trend in the fitness industry. As you expand your delivery options to include virtual offerings, there are a number of important legal considerations.
If you’ve opted to provide asynchronous sessions where you deliver a written program with recorded video support, your potential legal liability is minimal. That said, you should provide a disclaimer in the written program or with the video(s) for the viewer to see a doctor before beginning any physical activity and to cease activity if they experience any health concerns.
A sample liability disclaimer at the beginning of the video might include language such as:
Any fitness activity can pose some potential risks to health. To reduce and avoid injury, a doctor should be consulted before beginning any exercise program. Be sure that the area within which you will exercise is appropriate for physical exertion. When you utilize [name of fitness professional’s] videos, you are performing exercises at your own risk. [Name of fitness professional] will not be responsible or liable for any injury or harm you sustain as a result of the fitness video or other information that is presented on the [fitness professionals] website. If you experience any nausea, shortness of breath, feeling of lightheadedness, irregular heartbeat, or other health concerns, cease exercise immediately and seek assistance from a doctor
If you are offering synchronous, or “livestreaming,” sessions during which you and your clients(s) can see one another (i.e., a two-way broadcast), the potential legal liability increases, especially since this is an emerging and unresolved area of law.
Regardless of what type of virtual session you are offering, you should take the following steps to keep clients safe while limiting your personal liability.
1. When instruction and supervision will occur virtually, a professional liability insurance policy with a specific clause noting a “designated premises endorsement” should be secured. The insurance coverage should provide specific locations where you will be covered. In some cases, a policy may indicate you are protected from legal liability when working from a privately owned premises but not when working in a public park or other government-owned property. When obtaining professional liability insurance, which should cover the specific actions that you will be taking, you should consult someone who has unique knowledge of the industry and the potential applicable laws in your state and, potentially, your city or county.
2. Supplement your liability policy with an umbrella policy that applies to situations where the base insurance policy amount was surpassed. Most umbrella policies provide additional protection in the rare cases that the primary policy limits are exceeded. When securing any type of insurance, make sure that the insurance agent fully understands your needs and can show in the secured policies how your specific professional and personal activities are covered.
3. Require every client to complete and submit appropriate preparticipation paperwork indicating that they have seen and been cleared for vigorous exercise by a doctor and that they fully understand the physical demands of exercise and have waived their right to sue you. These documents should be completed and collected before anyone begins exercising under your guidance. Though a client can certainly mail a “hard copy” of these materials, in many cases the client may wish to email or directly upload their paperwork through your website. When collecting materials online, be sure that your system has the ability to ‘e-verify’ the client’s consent through a signature page or pages. When it comes to the completion of this paperwork you should be just as diligent when offering virtual sessions as you would be for in-person sessions that take place in your facility. Stated simply, no one should participate in a personal-training session until they have completed and submitted the appropriate paperwork.
4. Instruct and supervise clients in a manner that indicates not only care for their performance but also their overall well-being. When training clients virtually, you should maintain your standard of care as if the sessions were being conducted in-person. This involves ensuring the workout area is prepared for exercise and soliciting feedback regarding any potential problems that exist as sessions proceed. If video conference capability permits, note any concerns before or during the session directly to your clients(s). However, in some cases, you may be instructing virtually but with limited or no video feedback. In those cases, do not start a session until the client(s) have verbally verified that they are in an area which is appropriate for physical activity and that is free of potential hazards (from tripping, etc.). In addition, as exercise proceeds, continually ask for verbal feedback from client(s) regarding their progress. This not only enhances safety but also ensures the client receives appropriate attention from you as the session proceeds.
As laws vary state to state, and because virtual training is an emerging and unresolved area of law, it is important to consult with an attorney with expertise in fitness liability and virtual training before delivering sessions in this manner.