Guest Column - February 2011
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Fitness Facilities

Fitness Center Safety: Assumption of Risk

By Dr. Peter Titlebaum, Michael McGinnis & Corrine M. Daprano

The society we live in has become extremely litigious, with over 16 million lawsuits filed annually in state courts in the United States. At a rate of about one every two seconds, these realities are becoming increasingly alarming. When litigation is considered in the context of a fitness center, the risk is no less significant. What can a fitness center do to avoid becoming a statistic?

Before that question is addressed and solutions offered, let's consider why the discussion is relevant and important. Take, for example, the standard treadmill. Designed for walking or running while facing straight ahead, users may be tempted to utilize the machine in a different manner in an effort to vary workouts that become tedious and routine over time. In fact, patrons are often seen walking backward to exercise different muscle groups.

The key is preventive maintenance, meaning proactively maintaining equipment prior to malfunctions in an attempt to avoid them.

Even though fitness staff personnel might notice the misuse, they may not report or document the incident, or even worse, not instruct the patron to discontinue the inappropriate use of the machine. If that user should trip or fall and get injured, he or she might be tempted to file suit against the facility, claiming improper instruction in the use of the machines.

If no records exist to document that the patron had been instructed in the proper use of the equipment, the patron has a much better chance of winning the case, and the results, whether by verdicts or settlements, can be costly.

Facilities need to implement incident reporting within their liability management program. Proactive implementation of practices and procedures such as incident documentation can reduce injuries, costly claims and lawsuits, and subsequent publicity problems later.

It takes a significant investment in time and education to properly maintain exercise equipment. Often, the task falls to fitness staff, originally hired to sell memberships and work with patrons. Not only were they hired for an entirely different skill set, but they were probably unaware of these duties. This lack of education or preparation regarding equipment maintenance and manufacturer's standards could lead to significant problems. Currently, there exists a lack of caring and due diligence, and people are not being properly trained.