Fitness professionals need liability insurance. But, what is it? and why do you need it? Liability insurance is any kind of insurance policy designed to provide legal defense and to cover the damages that may be awarded against you if you are found liable There are many different kind of policies – which are largely distinguished by what they cover.
The difference between general liability insurance and professional liability insurances reflects a difference between covering you against claims arising from accidents, injuries or loss associated with property you own, rent or occupy (including indemnification for claims of negligence resulting in personal injury or property damage), while professional liability insurance relates to the professional activities for which you are paid and for which your errors or omissions (the things you fail to do) cause bodily injury to a client. You often need both of these types of policies and perhaps others.
A personal injury insurance may protect against suits involving libel, slander, defamation of character, and wrongful invasion of privacy, discrimination, and advertising injury (those before and after shots). Your professional liability insurance policy may include some or all of these as a matter of course.
What can insurance do? What can it not do?
Your policy documents detail what is covered, any exceptions, and any limits or caps on coverage. It is important to carefully read these documents prior to committing to a policy. Many employers or facilities will want to be listed as additional insured on your professional liability policy – your broker can assist with this.
If you behave in a criminal or intentionally negligent way, many insurers will not cover you for claims arising out of those actions. Insurance isn’t a catchall! Be sure that any general liability policy you secure includes coverage for sports and fitness clients (sometimes referred to as “participants”), as well as reimbursing a 3rd party for medical expenses incurred as a result of injury. You may also consider an abuse or molestation policy (which pays for legal defense of the insured against allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct) – this is certainly something to consider if you are working with minors or vulnerable populations.
It can’t protect you fully if you have not taken steps to protect yourself – not adequately completed continuing education, failed to complete fitness assessments of the client or requested a medical questionnaire (PAR-Q). Many insurance companies detail these additional ways to mitigate damage.
For fitness professionals, it may be helpful to know that the cost of policies are cheaper if you are certified even if certification is not legally required. Group policies are also often available through professional associations (as part of a group policy). So too, Independent Contractors working as group exercise instructors are often eligible for discounted coverage.
We’ve talked about waivers and disclaimers before, and while they are extremely helpful and important in demonstrating informed consent and showing a pattern of competence and training, they do not function as a complete defense against a lawsuit. The likelihood of a court upholding a waiver against wilful negligence is very low, however, each jurisdiction differs on how it views waivers and how much it matters whether a client (or a reasonable person) could foresee a certain type of injury or damage mentioned in the waiver when they signed it.
Why do you need liability insurance?
Because as a professional in your field the court will hold you to that standard.
I work for a club, you say, why would I need my own insurance? Appropriate coverage may still be necessary. There is peace of mind in knowing that you are insured wherever you work, and you are not reliant on a policy that was never written to protect you as a professional, but rather your employer. A separate policy may also protect any “moonlighting activities” like training friends at a local park or volunteering at a local community center.
If you are a contractor you may or may not be covered under the club or facility’s insurance, and should consider investigating your own professional and general liability insurance policies. If you do any personal training, coaching, or teaching in your own home, or a client’s home, you definitely need your own liability insurance.
You might be incredibly careful, well trained, and follow all best practices, but that does not mean that you are immune or protected from unfounded allegations or lawsuits, or being joined by another party – for example, a client might sue the facility and then the facility may join you and/or business to the suit, or you may be a tenant in a building where someone injured sues all of the building tenants. Even in a situation where you are completely free of liability you may still need to pay a not insignificant amount of money in legal fees (let alone lost business), and deal with negative effects on your reputation.
So, fitness professionals, do you need liability insurance? Yes, whether your employer pays for the policy, or you do – liability insurance is an important protection to consider including in your business budget. Do your research and figure out what level of coverage is needed for your business based on the risks unique to you, and your business. Like good legal advice, and great tax advice, an insurance broker you can trust should be a key member of your business’ advisory team. They say the best kind of insurance is the kind that covers you when you need it to!