Additional Insights from Professionals on Limiting Liability
Many liability claims result from someone getting injured on a piece of equipment that has not been properly serviced, maintained or taken off the floor if compromised. It is also not uncommon to see professional losses arising from injuries that occur during personal training sessions. With the rise of intensive boot camp-style training and continually evolving methods, trends and equipment, injuries can occur if the trainer is not careful. Clubs can mitigate these potential losses by using a vendor to maintain and service the equipment regularly, or by having on-site maintenance that is well-versed in the equipment. A club’s personal trainers also need to be properly certified, to stay up with the latest industry trends and continually assess their clients’ progress and well-being.
another viable practice is having proper waiver language in place and keeping your waiver separate from your membership application. As always, it is advisable to consult with your attorney to be sure your waiver language is effective. Consulting with an attorney or local insurance agent is a valuable tool to keep up with changing conditions within the club industry, and provide risk management guidance.
Several things often stand out to me when inspecting or consulting with a health club operator, such as not completing background checks on employees who interact with customers — children are especially one area of concern. Many staff members have access to children, and quite frequently, a front desk staff person will jump in and help in the child-watch area or camp program. Sexual misconduct allegations do not always involve children — incidents can and do occur between adults.
Another area of liability that clubs need to address is establishing emergency response plans, and practicing and reviewing them once in place. Many claims result not from someone getting injured or having a cardiac emergency, but rather from the lack of a timely response or proper care. Weather emergencies, a missing child or an assailant in the building are all real-life threats that health clubs could face, that can be mitigated by establishing effective emergency response plans.
Brian Rawlings is the Target Market Manager of Fitness and Recreation for Cincinnati Insurance Company. He can be reached at Brian_rawlings@cinfin.com or 513.218.9105.
In terms of liability, swimming pools have generated their share of losses. A qualified and trained lifesaving staff should attend pools. When those individuals are not attentive to their responsibilities, or when they have not been properly trained to respond to a member who may be in jeopardy, the club’s liability can be breached and fault found — even when the member or guest can swim or has signed a waiver, release or hold-harmless form. Clubs are ultimately responsible for the patrons in and around their pools. Hiring lifeguards give the member and guest a sense of security that the facility can respond to, should an event occur that is unforeseeable.
We have found that many who lifeguard pools are youth or college-age students hired during the summer season, and their full, undivided attention is necessary for the safety of swimmers. Chatting with each other, their friends or the patrons, viewing text messages or talking on their cell phones can create a disastrous distraction.
Limiting liability may mean the difference between having a swimming pool or not. Minimizing the liability if you have a pool would mean having good controls in place, high safety standards, a good emergency plan and a well-trained and qualified staff selection. Although it is a summer job for some, it requires dedicated controls and staff to make it safer for club patrons to enjoy. The biggest mistake clubs make in terms of limiting liability is not having a written, formal, safety program in place with tight controls, or if they do, not educating all staff members in the protocols of that plan to keep the patron’s safety a top priority.
Risk can also come in the form of new programs and services. The club industry focuses on the market share of members, and to do so, they have to have the best equipment and a variety of fitness and recreational programs to pull all ages, and to keep their members. Clubs are branching out, adding services and programs that might be the latest popular phenomenon. Sometimes, these popular programs hold higher risks. There are some services that bring a higher degree of exposure to liabilities that have not been contemplated.
Cheryl L. Meyers is the Underwriting Manager for K&K Insurance. She can be reached at 260.459.5663.