Risks of Posting Online Workouts Open To The Public

If you post workouts to a website, are you as publisher potentially liable if a visitor to your website injures himself or herself during the workout?

This is an important question if you run a health or fitness website. It’s actually something you should think about before you run into any problems. The short answer is it depends whether you have departed from a standard of care. That may be a standard of reasonable care, or possibly the standard of care exercised by similar professionals.  The departure could be in the workout design (sequence, load, volume, intensity), or instructions and warnings (either because they are missing or inadequate).  Negligence is heavily dependent on facts, and any time a legal decision turns on the facts of the case, there is a ton of uncertainty because a jury of your peers will be deciding.  With such uncertainty, there are ways to minimize liability risks and protect your business investment.

There are a lot of things you need to worry about if you are running a website. As it increases in popularity, however, it is vital to make sure you are covered if someone gets hurt listening to your advice and decides to sue you. The good news is that there are ways you can protect yourself.  The discussion begins with liability insurance.

How Liability Insurance Protects Your Investment

For a fitness and training professional who posts online workouts or otherwise offers any sort of fitness related advice to the public, purchasing liability insurance is not only a good idea, it shouldn’t even be debated.  Yes, premiums can be expensive, but unless you are socking a ton of cash away in reserves to pay out losses and cover your attorneys’ fees and costs, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what you’ll pay out during litigation.  And even if liability is questionable and you ultimately prevail, you are still responsible for covering your own attorneys’ fees and costs. In tort cases, the general rule is that each party is responsible for his or her own attorney fees, although each jurisdiction may have some exceptions in narrowly defined circumstances.  The liability insurance carrier has a duty to provide you with a legal defense, so purchasing liability insurance protects your investment from that stand point alone.

What Type of Insurance

General liability insurance indemnifies  you if, for example, your client is injured due to a defect (i.e. equipment breaks) on your premises.  However, someone who is injured off your business premises may not be covered.  And general liability insurance does not cover professional errors and omissions, which publishing an online workout, arguably entails.

Professional liability insurance protects professionals like doctors from a mistake.  The trend seems to be that fitness trainers likely need an errors and omissions policy.  Since every business is unique, it’s advisable to enlist the help of a solid insurance broker.

A broker, unlike an “insurance agent,” is not married to a particular insurance carrier and their job is to recognize your business risks, recommend and tailor the insurance package to fit those risk and the good ones will go to bat for you if there’s a dispute with your insurance company.  Especially in this context, because posting online workouts is a relatively new animal, there are concerns whether a run-of-the mill professional errors and omission policy will cover such a loss.  For this reason I refer my clients to Nancy Draper-Clark with the Mahoney Group , who’s a leader in her field.  She’s extremely knowledgeable with both the resources and connections to negotiate, if necessary, a manuscript policy with insurance companies that will cover this specific type of risk.

Next, we are going to take a look at a way to get help with all your questions about legal liability as a fitness trainer publishing workouts for the public online.

Other Ways to Protect Yourself Online

Here are some other ways you can protect yourself from liability risks when publishing online workouts that are available to the public.

–  Disclaimers – One of the easiest things you can do is to include a disclaimer about the exercises and workouts you provide online. You want to make this easy to find and not hidden on some back page of your website. Still, this may not offer you complete protection if someone gets hurt following your workout and decides to sue.

–  Terms of Use – In addition to a disclaimer on all pages, or a link to a common disclaimer page for your website, having a Terms of Use page that clearly lays out a provision limiting your liability, that the user assumes the risk of injury and that he/she should only engage in the workout under the supervision of a certified or licensed trainer and with a physician’s approval.  And it is highly recommended that access to the site be conditioned on the user affirmatively accepting the Terms of Use by clicking a box for example.

–  Transparency – The more transparent you are about who owns and runs the website and creating a message that your site exists to help others and that you are not a shady operation goes a long way in not becoming a litigation target.  The logic is similar to those doctors who have an excellent bedside manner and lawyers who promptly and openly communicate with clients are not targeted as frequently, even when a mistake is made.

–  Options –  Provide users with modifications and how to scale load or volume to minimize risk of injury.  Make it clear that the main workout is geared for a more experienced athlete.

Stay tuned as we look at even more tips, advice and suggestions for health and fitness entrepreneurs. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below or contact us so that we can try to assist you however we can.

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