A major focus for a small business startup is minimizing risks while maximizing rewards. Your goal is to avoiding some of the most common detrimental gym legal issues. This is possible by acquiring the proper insurance and making your business as lawsuit-proof as possible.
To help you accomplish this, we spoke to Vaughn Vernon, founder of AffiliateGuard. Today, we’re discussing the top five lawsuits for gym owners, along with tips for protecting your business.
1. Landlords And Leases.
“I see so many issues where misunderstanding or assumptions on a lease caused serious damage to small gym owners every year,” said Vernon. “Get yourself a lawyer when signing a lease and save yourself some future headaches.”
When it comes to your lease and landlord, Vernon strongly advises gym owners to hire a solid attorney. Leases are often complex legal documents. They can contain exceptions or clauses that can potentially impact your business.
Generally, leases start with a template where you insert your business details. As a result, it’s usually easy for a seasoned lawyer to spot anything abnormal.
Here are some of the more common sections where gym legal issues might appear:
Utility Or Maintenance Fees.
- Often termed “NNN” or “CAM” fees, these are the operational costs of the building. They can include things like gardening, maintaining common areas, trash and utilities. Or they sometimes include property taxes and insurance.
- If this is part of your lease, make sure you understand the details. Determine what the fees are and what they’re used for.
- The danger with NNN fees is that they allow the landlord to upgrade the business, often at their discretion. And on your dime. Painting, roofing and resurfacing parking lots are a few examples. These expensive upgrades massively affect their ability to rent units. Unfortunately, these upgrades only marginally affect your business.
Rent Increase Schedules.
- It’s common for rents to increase incrementally over time. As a rule, your lease should include a schedule of these increases.
- Understand the rent increase schedule and fees, both in percentage and absolute amounts.
- Your real estate agent or lawyer should know the average rent increase in your area. Make sure the increases you agree to are in line with your area.
Repair And Infrastructure Exclusions.
- When it comes to building infrastructure repair, it’s important to clarify what you, and your landlord, are responsible for. Generally speaking, landlords are liable for the walls, roof and utilities.
- Check your lease for other important infrastructure and repair language. Both parties should agree on who’s responsible for what.
- Common things to check for are bathrooms, plumbing, air conditioning, internal ceilings, ducting, sprinkler systems and electrical.
- This has become a hotter topic recently, especially because gym culture often includes loud music and dropping barbells. Because of this, make sure your lease does not include excessive noise restrictions.
- Many leases will get around this with a “nuisance clause.” This means the landlord can evict you if your operation causes distress to your neighbors.
- Note that you still have to comply with all city noise ordinances, regardless of a noise clause in your contract.
Use And Hours Of Operation Restrictions.
- Similar to potential noise restriction rules, scan your lease for any hours of operation restrictions. Additionally, confirm that the type of fitness business you run is acceptable.
- Once again, you still have to comply with all city ordinances, regardless of the hours of operations clause in your contract.
“In every lawsuit we see, the client waiver is the the first line of legal defense we have,” said Vernon. “Make sure yours is rock solid.”
Make sure you have a solid, attorney-approved waiver. Despite the fact that there are countless waiver templates online, you never know the source. Don’t risk your gym’s protection or other potential gym legal issues with a questionable waiver.
Obviously, using your waiver is equally as important as having one. Therefore, every person in your gym must fill out a waiver.
Free Waiver Templates.
AffiliateGuard offers free, downloadable waivers that are written and approved by lawyers. You can use them as a physical, paper waiver or to form the basis of a digital waiver.
The main benefit of paper waivers is the convenience of quick access. Someone shows up, you grab the waiver, they sign it, you file it.
But if you’ve been in business for years, how easily could you locate one particular waiver? Unless you’re vigilant about filing, it might be tough to find the one you need in the event of a lawsuit. In addition, paper waivers are susceptible to loss, theft, water or fire damage. Any of these could leave you without a line of defense for these digital gym legal issues.
The only obstacle to electronic waivers is the initial setup. (Don’t worry PushPress clients: The Core digital documents system is done for you). But once that’s done, it’s smooth sailing.
On the back end, saving yourself valuable storage is always a bonus. Plus, what digital waivers might lack in upfront convenience, they make up for in other ways. They can be virtually assigned to each customer for easy retrieval and record keeping. You can also store them in cloud systems to keep them safe from physical disaster. And if you have the right software, they can’t be lost or stolen.
UETA And E-SIGN Compliance.
To be considered valid, digital waivers need to comply with important laws (ESIGN, UETA). Again, PushPress clients are all set.
“When in doubt, fill it out.” - Vernon, about injury reports.
In the event of any injury, fill out an official injury report immediately. Record the following information:
- Day and time of the class.
- Coaches on duty during the incident.
- Movement and/or action that caused the injury.
- Member’s statement on the injury (why, when, where, how, who, etc).
- Coach’s statement on the injury (why, when, where, how, who, etc).
- If medical attention was required or declined.
The more quality information you can record surrounding the details of the injury, the better. Insurance providers must keep all injury reports on file.
Negligence will be the claim for most lawsuits attacking your business. Simply put, this insinuates that you or your gym caused the person injury simply by their participation.
Samples of negligence-related gym legal issues would be:
- Creating an environment which caused an injury, like leaving equipment out.
- Having a coach push a member beyond their limits or fail to offer workout scaling options.
- Failing to establish or follow safety protocol.
- Having a coach fail to pay attention to the class while coaching.
People will often lie about the root cause when they get hurt. Unfortunately when this happens, it’s up to you to prove that they’re misrepresenting facts. The most common lawsuit isn’t actually for injury itself. The implication is that gym negligence caused the injury.
The best way to battle negligence is pretty simple: Don’t be negligent. Have the foresight and diligence to set up and enforce protocol:
- Members and staff always put away equipment.
- Coaches maintain focus and avoid distraction.
- Coaches learn about each member and offer correct coaching cues. If they don’t possess this information, they always favor safety.
- Members go through a proper gym onboarding process which prioritizes safety.
- Classes are not overcrowded.
Beyond class protocol, avoid potential negligence lawsuits regarding information systems:
- Keep documentation of certifications, experience and coaching tenure for your staff.
- Buy and maintain surveillance systems to provide video evidence of incidents.
- Keep a record of your members’ check-ins and workouts. This data can prove someone had a strong working knowledge of a movement they might be claiming they did not.
- Document completion of an onboarding program and preliminary movement assessments.
4. Dogs In The Gym.
“With all the cannons pointing at you from a legal standpoint, why stand up a couple more? Keep the dogs at home and save yourself yet another potential liability,” said Vernon.
If you want to run a professional gym with a welcoming environment, you have to leave the dogs at home. The entire PushPress team loves dogs so we get it. But inviting dogs to the gym simply invites potential gym legal traps.
Put simply, dogs are one of those risky gym legal issues that you have zero control over. Whether a potential bite or a member tripping over a wandering pup, there are too many potential risks.
5. Kids In The Gym.
While dogs in the gym is a relatively simple problem to fix, kids in the gym is a harder one. Vernon shared some best practices for a professional approach.
First, set up a designated area, blocked off with child-proof gates, for kids. Therefore, no unattended children should ever be permitted on the gym floor, unless they’re participating in class. In addition, parents must be present in the gym.
Supervision is preferred but occasionally, gym owners will organize a parent rotation. No matter who is supervising, background checks must be completed and parents must sign waivers. Additionally, if children leave with anyone other than parents, coaches must be notified.
And throw in a “no food” policy. It will help with everything from cleaning to unannounced peanut allergies.
PRO TIP: Once you’ve set up your gym to be lawsuit-proof, take the next step! Set up your gym management system by registering your FREE account here!
PushPress is a gym management software that is here to help you grow your fitness facility. With PushPress, you'll be able to manage classes and appointments, take payments, track attendance, manage leads and create an unforgettable member experience!