Are You Liable?
Liability is a legal term for responsibility. When you are working with clients, you are responsible for their safety. This includes providing a safe work space, well-maintained equipment, and proper instruction and supervision. You can even be held liable for the advice you give. You need to protect yourself from litigation by educating yourself and your clients and by keeping proper records.
Scope of Practice
As a personal trainer, you have been trained to evaluate clients' fitness levels and create and implement exercise programs. It is your duty and responsibility to perform only the tasks for which you have been trained. If you are not also a certified athletic trainer or physician, and you are attempting to evaluate an injury, you are acting outside your scope of practice. This is also the case if you are not a licensed massage therapist and are massaging a client. Failing to stay within your scope of practice is irresponsible and can result in your causing harm to a client or being named in a lawsuit.
A personal trainer can be found liable for making recommendations that result in a client becoming injured. This is especially true if you are receiving payment for endorsing the recommended product or service. If you choose to give advice outside your scope of practice, you need to make it clear that you are speaking only from personal experience or out of personal preference.
Standard of Care
Even though there are no laws specifically governing personal trainers, your actions must measure up to certain standards of professionalism. These standards are based on common practices within the industry. Whatever actions you take should be in line with accepted practices by other professionals.
If a personal trainer is sued, the court will base its decision on whether or not the actions in question measure up to the minimal standard and quality of care expected of a personal trainer. For example, if a trainer puts together a program for a client who then suffers an injury, the trainer will only be held liable if the program is inappropriate given the client's age and medical and exercise histories. The court would have to determine if other professionals with the same training would have acted in a similar manner given the same situation.
If your actions or lack of action result in a client becoming injured, you could be found negligent by a court of law. Negligence typically occurs when a trainer fails to stay within her scope of practice or fails to uphold the standard of care for personal trainers. A trainer may be found negligent if a client sustains an injury because she failed to supervise him during a session, did not properly maintain the equipment, or recommended an unsafe exercise.