Pay attention to the five most common legal traps you may encounter as a new gym owner.
Opening a gym creates a lot of legal liability you should be aware of. While it’s not 100% possible to shield yourself from all liability, being aware of common legal pitfalls and knowing how to proactively defend against them is one of the most important things to consider early.
Opening any small business opens you up to the possibility of a lawsuit. That’s just the fact of business. Luckily, you will be getting insurance to help shield you from some of the potential damages a lawsuit might bring – but it’s always best practice to set up your business to be as bulletproof to lawsuits as possible.
We spoke to Vaughn Vernon of AffiliateGuard to find out what some of the common lawsuits people see in gym ownership, where they stem from, and how to protect yourself from them.
I see so many issues where misunderstanding or assumptions on a lease caused serious damage to small gym owners every year. Get yourself a lawyer when signing a lease and save yourself some future headaches.
Vaughn Vernon, AffiliateGuard
When it comes to your lease and dealing with your landlord, Vaughn strongly advises all potential gym owners to hire a solid attorney. Leases are often complex legal documents that can contain carve outs, exceptions or clauses that can really impact your business down the road.
Generally, leases are just boilerplate documents, where your particulars are inserted into pre-filled out legal documents. As a result, it’s generally easy for a seasoned lawyer to spot out any weird things slipped into the lease. These things would not be so apparent to you.
In every lawsuit we see, the client waiver is the the first line of legal defense we have. Make sure yours is rock solid.
Vaughn Vernon, AffiliateGuard
Make sure you have a solid waiver that your attorney approves of. There are countless ones online you can find by googling, but unless you know the source of the waiver do not use it. It literally could have been written by someone’s second cousin who’s a first year law student.
Every person who puts a foot on your gym floor should have a waiver signed and filed.
AffiliateGuard, as a free resource, offers lawyer written and approved waivers for download. Use this as your paper waivers or to form the basis of a digital waiver – your choice!
Paper waivers are more convenient if you don’t have processes in place. It’s simple to whip out a paper waiver from a filing cabinet and have someone sign it.
Where paper waivers generally fail are when they actually matter. If you have been in operation for 5 years you will likely have upwards of 1,000 waivers in a filing cabinet. Unless you are vigilant about filing, the chances of you finding that waiver in the event of a lawsuit are slim to none (or you will spend 8 hours digging through paper looking for it).
Paper waivers are susceptible to loss, theft, water or fire damage which would leave you without your first line of defense against a lawsuit.
Due to the emergence and popularity of electronically signed documents, these present a viable option for gym owners now.
Digital waivers are potentially less convenient up front, if you don’t have the proper systems and processes in place to get waivers presented to and signed by your customers. (Don’t worry PushPress clients, our digital documents system is so well thought through, you won’t even know it’s running).
Digital waivers also need to make sure to comply with some important laws (ESIGN, UETA) to be considered valid. Again, PushPress clients, we got you covered, our documents are all E-SIGN and UETA compliant.
Where digital waivers might lack in upfront convenience, they make up for in all other ways:
PushPress handles all storage, retrieval, and security around your documents for you automatically.
When in doubt; Injury form – fill it out.
Vaughn Vernon, Affiliate Guard
If you think there’s any chance of injury, take down an official injury report immediately. Record the following information:
The more quality information you can record surrounding the details of the injury, the better. Send all injury reports to your insurance provider so they can keep it on file.
Most lawsuits attacking your business will be focused on the concept of negligence. Simply put, this is a situation caused by you or your business that caused the person to get injured above and beyond simply participating in your gym activities.
Samples of negligence would be:
Sometimes when people get hurt, they lie about the root cause of it. Unfortunately, when this happens it’s up to you to prove that they are misrepresenting the facts. The most common lawsuit brought isn’t for an injury itself – it’s because an injury was caused because the gym was being negligent.
The best way to battle negligence is simply NOT be negligent. Keeping your gym out of the risk of negligence generally means you have to have the foresight and diligence to setup and enforce protocol and expectations in your gym:
Beyond these systems, you can also prepare for potential negligence lawsuits by having information systems in place that can defend your case of being properly prepared.
All of the above will help you present a case telling of the customer’s past breadth of experience in your gym, with your coaches, and doing the movements that they claim caused injury.
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.
Vaughn Vernon, AffiliateGuard
When you’re talking about being a professional gym and creating a professional environment, there’s only one answer to this – leave the dogs at home. We understand everyone loves their dogs, but with all the potential problems you face why invite more into your business?
Put simply, dogs are an X-factor that you have zero control over. Whether it’s a potential bite situation or a dog crossing paths with someone on your gym floor causing a trip and fall – there’s way too many potentially bad outcomes at risk.
While dogs in the gym is a relatively simple problem to fix, kids in the gym is a harder one. When we asked Vaughn for his “best practices” approach to this, he gave us the following:
Following these protocol will help you minimize the risk of injury or incident involving other people’s children.