ACE Personal Trainer
Manual, 4th edition
Chapter 17:
Legal Guidelines and
Professional Responsibilities
Business Structure
 The size and scope of the business—both in the short- and
long-term—will be important factors in the initial selection of
the business entity.
 The business can be altered if conditions warrant.
– However, legal issues arising at a time when one structure was utilized
cannot simply be mitigated by switching to a different structure.
 Typically, personal-training businesses operate under one of
the following structures:
– Sole proprietorship
– Partnership
– Corporation
Personal Trainers as Independent Contractors
 A majority of trainers work with clients at an established fitness
– The relationship between the center and the trainer needs to be clearly defined.
 Personal trainers who work with clients at fitness centers typically do
not provide their own equipment.
 A personal trainer who brings clients to a fitness center is operating
in a different environment than one who trains existing gym
 A personal trainer who is an independent contractor should be able
– Choose when and where to work
– Charge variable fees for different situations
– Begin working without extensive guidance
– Maintain autonomy in training decisions
 Contracts are the best method to ensure that all aspects
of a relationship are properly established.
 The following elements are necessary to create a
binding contract:
– An offer and acceptance with a mutual agreement of terms
– Consideration (an exchange of valuable items, such as money
for services)
– Legality (acceptable form under the law)
– Ability of the parties to enter into a contract with respect to legal
age and mental capacity
Written Contracts versus Oral Contracts
 Some personal trainers may feel that written contracts
are unnecessary.
– In the case of scheduling clients, that is often the standard
 A potential misunderstanding may result in problems.
– Any oral contract is subject to misinterpretation by the involved
 In the event of an oral contract dispute, conflicting stories
may be settled in a courtroom without sufficient evidence
to support the trainer’s account of what transpired.
Legal Responsibilities
 The personal trainer should prepare for each training
session with safety as the first priority.
– This provides a better experience for the client and increases the
likelihood that the client will continue to utilize the trainer’s
 An inspection of facilities and equipment and a review of
the protocols regarding supervision and instruction
should be regularly performed.
 Personal trainers have an obligation to ensure that the facilities used
are free from unreasonable hazards.
 At the very least, the physical environment should be inspected
each day prior to beginning any training session.
 The inspection should consider the following issues:
– Trainers should ensure that floor surfaces will cushion the feet, knees, and legs
from excessive stress.
– There should be sufficient free space available to protect the client from other
patrons and from hurting him- or herself on equipment.
– Functional lighting must be sufficient for chosen exercises.
– There must be functional heating and air conditioning systems.
– Proximity to drinking fountains and bathrooms is important for some clients.
Use of Public Spaces
 In some jurisdictions it is illegal to train clients on public beaches,
parks, or trails.
– It is the trainer’s responsibility to know the local laws prior to using these areas.
 Once a “legal” outdoor area has been selected for a training
session, the trainer should understand the potential dangers of the
– Weather
– Potential acts of God
 It is the trainer’s responsibility to
ensure that the activities will not pose
a significant risk for clients.
 All equipment should meet the highest safety and design standards
and should be purchased from a reputable manufacturer.
 Equipment must be regularly inspected and properly maintained.
 Protocol for broken equipment
– Once something is deemed unsafe, the personal trainer should immediately
remove the equipment from the training area.
– If quick removal is not feasible, the equipment should be disabled to prevent
further use until repaired.
– “Do not use” signs easily fall off and unsuspecting patrons may be injured when
trying to use the broken equipment.
 Manufacturers typically provide maintenance schedules for
 The legal claim that a person
failed to act as a reasonable
and prudent person should,
thereby resulting in injury to
another person.
 Four factors must exist for negligence to be proven:
– Presence of a duty (such as providing supervision of
a class)
– A breach of the legal duty of care (failure to act as a
reasonable and prudent person would under similar
– Proximate cause of the injury (the action or failure to
act caused the subsequent injury)
– Substantial nature of the injuries or harm (the extent
of the injuries)
 Legal defenses against negligence:
Assumption of risk: Knowing, understanding, and appreciating the
risk associated with a chosen activity.
Contributory negligence: Behavior by the plaintiff that contributed to
the injury.
Comparative negligence: Apportions (divides) damages between a
negligent plaintiff and a negligent defendant who each played a
part in the injury.
 Avoiding negligence:
 General supervision: action required whenever activity is
occurring by those for whom the person is responsible.
 Specific supervision: mandated action required whenever a
higher level of risk is associated with the activity of the persons
for whom the adult is responsible.
 Actual notice: refers to the removal of known hazards by a
responsible person
 Constructive notice: Refers to hazards that a responsible person
should have noticed and eliminated.
 Several other steps to avoiding negligence:
 Provide proper and clear instructions.
 Ensure each participant’s fitness, conditioning, and ability levels
are appropriate to the expectations.
 Enforce safety rules and regulations.
 When injuries occur, the supervisor must respond appropriately.
 Do not use inadequate, ill-fitting, or defective equipment.
 Only qualified individuals should supervise physical activity.
 To understand the extent of your obligations to clients
served, consider these example questions:
– What are your obligations to a person who will be participating in
a cardiovascular fitness test that involves a submaximal treadmill
– As a personal trainer, what are your legal responsibilities for the
welfare of your client who is participating in a strength training
Agreement to Participate
 A signed acknowledgement
of a participant’s knowing,
understanding, and
appreciating the risks
associated with an activity.
Note: This is not a waiver form.
Informed Consent
 An informed consent form can be utilized to demonstrate that a
client acknowledges that he or she has been specifically
informed about the risks associated with the activity in which he
or she is about to engage.
– Client gives consent to participate in an exercise program and/or have
something done to him or her by the personal trainer (e.g., fitness
assessments), and therefore can differ slightly from an agreement to
– Primarily intended to communicate the potential benefits and dangers of
the program or exercise testing procedures to the client
– Should detail the possible discomforts involved and potential alternatives
 The informed consent form, combined with oral communication,
prepares the client for the positive and negative effects of
certain types of exercise.
Vicarious Liability and Waivers
Vicarious liability means that employers are responsible for the employment
actions of their employees.
If an employee is negligent while working within the normal scope of
employment, it is likely that the injured party will sue not only the employee,
but also the employer or employers.
The use of waivers is critical in personal training, as a properly worded
exculpatory clause bars the injured from potential recovery.
There are some potential issues that every personal trainer must investigate
with an attorney prior to crafting a waiver.
State-specific validity
Types of activities and potential risks of injury that would be barred from recovery
Waivers typically do not protect the personal trainer from injuries directly
caused by gross negligence.
Tort Law
 Tort: a French word for wrong; a private or civil wrong or
injury, other than breach of contract, suffered due to
another person's conduct.
 Tort law: a part of the civil law that provides remedies for
acts that cause harm; therefore, injured parties may file
civil lawsuits in an attempt to seek compensation for their
Tort Law
 Tort damages are monetary damages
that are sought from the offending
 They are intended to compensate the
injured party for the injury suffered.
Tort law imposes a duty on
persons and business agents
not to intentionally or
negligently injure others in
Categories of Torts
Intentional Torts
Unintentional Torts
Strict Liability Torts
Types of Tort
 Intentional torts: injuries caused by intentional acts.
 Negligence: harm caused by careless acts or failure to
perform a legal duty.
 Strict liability: requires the person causing the harm to
compensate the injured party without regard to fault.
Sample Case for Discussion
Plaintiff claimed trainer dropped barbell on face
Case Type:
Negligent Training, Recreation - Gym,
Affirmative Defenses - Assumption of
Case Name:
Assaf Blecher v. 24 Hour Fitness USA
Inc. and David Stevens, No.
Superior Court of Los Angeles County,
Central, CA
Robert L. Hess
Sample Case for Discussion
 On Jan. 26, 2010, plaintiff Assaf Blecher, 38, a member
of the 24 Hour Fitness facility, was participating in a
personal training session with his trainer, David Stevens,
an employee of the gym, when the trainer dropped a
145-pound barbell on Blecher's face.
 Blecher sued Stevens and 24 Hour Fitness USA Inc. He
alleged that Stevens was grossly negligent in the
handling of the barbell, and that the fitness facility was
liable for trainer's actions and for negligently training
Sample Case for Discussion
 Plaintiff's counsel contended that Stevens' actions
constituted gross negligence by failing to follow safety
procedures that were the standard in the fitness industry,
such as gripping the barbell in the proper manner,
undertaking spotting responsibilities for weight that was
heavier than he could handle at the time, and failing to
seek assistance once he recognized Blecher's
exhaustion. Counsel also contended that the fitness
center was grossly negligent in its failure to properly
educate its trainers on safety techniques that could have
prevented or minimized the risk of injury.
Sample Case for Discussion
 Defense counsel argued that neither the actions of Stevens
nor 24 Hour Fitness constituted gross negligence, and that
Blecher assumed the risks associated with the activities.
Counsel also argued that Blecher was at least partially
negligent for the accident because he did not hang onto the
 Defense counsel moved for summary judgment based on the
signed liability waiver that is contained within the membership
agreement. Plaintiff's counsel opposed the motion by alleging
that the actions of the trainer and the club constituted gross
negligence, which would be outside the scope of the release,
per City of Santa Barbara v. Superior Court (2007) 41 Cal.4th
747,758. The court ultimately denied the defense counsel's
Sample Case for Discussion
 Blecher sustained nasal fractures and cheek
bone fractures, and was subsequently
transported to a hospital, where an emergency
plastic surgery was performed. It was also
determined that Blecher suffered nerve damage
to the infra orbital nerve as a result of the facial
fractures and he ultimately developed a
temporomandibular joint disorder.
 Blecher claimed that the nerve damage caused
a permanent loss of sensation to part of his face.
 The jury found that both Stevens and 24 Hour
Fitness were negligent, and awarded Blecher
$892,650 in damages.
 Assaf Blecher
 $142,650 Personal Injury: special damages
 $750,000 Personal Injury: general damages

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