All fitness professionalswhether they teach classes or train one-on-one, whether they are employees or independent contractorsneed insurance to protect themselves and their future from liability exposure. The good news is that protection is relatively inexpensive and easy to obtain online, and programs are tailored to provide the needed coverage. Having insurance frees fitness professionals to do what they do best: help their clients become more fit and healthy.

Fitness professionals need to be aware of four primary types of liability exposure in the clubs and studios where they train their clients:

1. Premises liability. This relates to the facility itself and is primarily the responsibility of the club or studio owner. Examples of premises liability injuries that can lead to claims include slips and falls on the sidewalk, over electrical cords or in the shower/wet areas. These types of claims are the most common in health and fitness clubs and studios, as in other businesses. A premises liability claim that can frequently involve the fitness professional is a wet floor in a group exercise room if a participant slips and falls and claims the instructor knew the floor was wet.

2. Liability associated with damaged, broken or malfunctioning equipment. These types of insurance claims can either be the responsibility of the facility or the equipment manufacturer. Health clubs and studios alike should maintain all of their equipment per the manufacturer's instructions with regular inspection and service. This includes everything from the steps, bands, balls and barbells used in group exercise classes to strength-training and cardio equipment. If a machine's design is found to be at fault for an injury, then the liability will shift to the manufacturer. A fitness professional can be a part of these claims if it is alleged that the instructor knew the treads on steps were worn or if the trainer knew the piece of equipment was not working properly.

3. Professional liability. The vast majority of exposure for fitness professionals exists under this type of exposure. All group exercise, yoga and Pilates instructors as well as personal trainers have exposure for the things that they say and do or fail to say or do. This includes performing the actual teaching and instructing in a class or session as well as the counseling and advice that they provide. This also includes nutritional counseling. The most common form of professional liability claim occurs when a member or client is injured and claims that the trainer or instructor failed to tell them how to use a piece of equipment properly.

4. Sexual abuse and molestation claims. Since trainers and instructors frequently work closely with their clients, they are open to claims of improper touching, overly familiar language or inappropriate comments. If they are working with clients younger than 18 years old, then this exposure increases dramatically.

How do fitness professionals protect themselves?

Individual insurance policies tailored to meet the needs of fitness professionals should include coverage to protect them from all of the types of claims discussed above. These individual policies are relatively inexpensive and follow the individual wherever they train if they train in multiple facilities at one time or if they change facilities within the policy year.

When purchasing an individual policy, fitness professionals should look for the following:

  • Professional liability coverage written on an occurrence basis that includes coverage for nutritional counseling.
  • General liability coverage that protects the fitness professional if they are named in a premises liability claim or equipment liability claim. It is important to know that claimants can name anyone that they want to in lawsuits.
  • Sexual abuse and molestation coverage.
  • Medical payments coverage. This coverage pays the medical bills of injured parties on a no-fault basis for good will.

Are instructors and trainers covered under the insurance policies of the fitness centers and studios where they work?

Fitness professionals who are direct employees or owners of the facility where they teach or train the clients of the club or studio most likely are covered by that facility's general liability and professional liability insurance policies. However, they always need to verify this with the facility.

Fitness professionals who are independent contractors and/or train their own clients in a studio or club owned by someone else mostly likely are not covered by the general liability or professional liability policy of the facility. Most club and studio owners require independent contractors to show proof that they have their own liability insurance prior to beginning work in the facility.

The vast majority of fitness professionals are passionate about their work and carry it outside the premises of the clubs and studios where they officially train their clients. Talking with family, friends, neighbors and others about their health, fitness and nutrition also can expose a fitness professional to liability. If one of these persons takes the advice of a "professional" and is injured, they then can file a claim or lawsuit. Therefore, all fitness professionals should have individual insurance coverage even if they are covered by the club or studio where they work. A club's policy only provides protection within the walls of that facility.

Content Sponsored by Sports & Fitness Insurance Corp.

Jennifer Urmston Lowe has been with Sports & Fitness Insurance (SFIC) as a licensed insurance agent insuring health clubs and fitness centers since 1998. Urmston Lowe helped her father, former Nautilus Chief Operating Officer John Urmston, found the IHRSA Insurance Program for Property and Casualty Insurance in 1999. She has served as SFIC's national account manager ever since and is a founding member of the advisory board of the Association of Fitness Studios. Prior to joining SFIC, Urmston Lowe was the general manager of two personal training fitness centers and three corporate wellness centers in the Charlotte, NC, area. She became certified as a personal trainer in 1995 and has conducted thousands of training sessions and managed a staff of personal trainers.