Fitness instructor liability?

by Anonymous

I have a question regarding the liability of a group fitness instructor and her level of liability when a student is injured...

A man, very out of shape and upon the advice of his doctor, joined a gym and decided to take an aerobics class. Having never taken this class before he ended up getting "lost" in the choreography and was quite off balance. The instructor never spoke to him during or after class. He went back to the class two days later and fell off the step and broke his ankle.

Does the instructor have any liability for this man's injury? Was she negligent by not paying attention to her students, and making helpful suggestions to avoid injury? Would it matter if the instructor was certified or not? Would the health club be liable in any way?

The waiver signed was worded "Participation in exercise involves certain inherent risks. I agree that I will assume all risks of harm arising from any exercise activity I undertake at the ****** Health Club and hold the club free from any responsibility of any actions they take." Does this mean there is no liability? Thanks.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Fitness instructor liability?":

Anonymous (Colorado):

From the facts you present, the group fitness instructor has no liability for the injury sustained by the member. The injured man must take responsibility for his physical condition and resulting injuries. The waiver signed by the member states in part...

"Participation in exercise involves certain inherent risks. I agree that I will assume all risks of harm arising from any exercise activity I undertake at the ****** Health Club and hold the club free from any responsibility of any actions they take."

That language, in one form or another, is used by most fitness clubs in their membership contracts. In most cases, the waivers are legally supportable and a point.

While waivers are normally valid in cases of simple negligence, they are not for gross negligence, or a when there exists a wanton or willfully negligent action or omission which results in injuries.

In other words, a waiver will normally be valid when a member loses his or her balance and falls, injuring himself, or slips on a puddle of water. But not when, for instance, a fitness club knows or should know there is an exposed wire, a weight machine which has been broken for days or weeks (knowing the machine would likely cause serious injuries to a member), and the club does nothing.

That negligence may be considered gross negligence. When gross negligence exists, a waiver may not be valid, and a fitness club may be exposed to liability for the injuries sustained by a club member.

Anther legal consideration is the doctrine of "Assumption of Risk." When a person decides to join a fitness club, he or she knows there's the possibility they may be injured.

Injuries can be sprains and strains to muscles, tendons or ligaments, minor cuts and bruises, and yes...the possibility of a broken ankle, especially when the member misuses a fitness machine, or is out if shape and because of that slips and falls breaking an ankle.

A good example of the language involved in Assumption of the Risk is as follows:

"Assumption of Risks: Participation in Activity carries with it certain inherent risks that cannot be eliminated regardless of the care taken to avoid injuries.

The specific risks vary from one activity to another, but the risks range from 1) minor injuries such as scratches, bruises, and sprains to 2) major injuries such as eye injury or loss of sight, joint or back injuries, heart attacks, and concussions to 3) catastrophic injuries including paralysis and death."

It would be unreasonable for a fitness instructor to have to review every member's medical records before permitting that person to engage in an event in which he or she must exert themselves.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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