Rising Popularity of Personal Trainer Jobs Exposes Legal Pitfalls of Profession

Personal trainer jobs have grown exponentially in the past few years, standing out as one of the few areas of growth during the economic recession. The Department of Labor has found that personal trainer jobs grew 44 percent between 2001 and 2011, while job growth overall dropped 1 percent during the same period, as reported today in the New York Times. But while hundreds of thousands of people are flocking to these jobs that have relatively low barriers to entry, they are discovering that there are many legal pitfalls to these otherwise appealing positions. Many of the legal issues that face workers in the personal trainer industry are very complex, and can expose many of these hopeful aspirants to massive personal liability.
Personal trainers must contend with a number of legal issues relating to their liability for client injuries. In the first case, personal trainers must realize that they may face massive liability for any injuries their client’s sustain during their sessions depending on their relevant state laws. In many states, personal trainers may be found negligent for any advice or training they provide to their clients that lead to their being injured. One recent case in Georgia, Guthrie v. Crouser, is a good example of the kinds of cases many personal trainers may face. In that case, a woman alleged that her personal trainer during a session pushed her to exert herself in exercises until after one session she suffered renal failure and had to be put on life support. In her complaint, the woman claimed that she had protested that the exercise routine was too hard, but her trainer pushed on, as reported by a local Atlanta television station. While the Georgia Court found that the plaintiff only suffered $80 in damages, it also awarded her costs, leaving the personal trainer defendant out of pocket for hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.
For California personal trainers, the issue of liability for client injuries is mitigated somewhat by a recent case on the issue. In 2006, a California Appeals Court ruled in Rostai v. Neste Enterprises et al. that personal trainers under California state law could not be liable for negligence for any injuries a client suffers from a too-strenuous workout. In the opinion, the court extended its earlier rulings on the issue of primary assumption of risk, finding that clients assume the risk for the ordinary injuries they may sustain during a workout. As a result personal trainers owe no duty of care to their clients in California. What this case means for California personal trainers is that they will not be held liable for their clients’ injuries sustained during a training session or workout unless they acted intentionally or recklessly in bringing about the injury. In Rostai, the court had been confronted with the case of a man who hired a personal trainer for his workouts at a local Gold’s Gym. The man subsequently sustained a heart attack during his first workout, which he claimed was due to his personal trainer’s negligence in failing to investigate his risk factors before the workout and pushing him too hard even after he complained of loss of breath and exhaustion. The California court applying its new test found that because the personal trainer did not intentionally attempt to injure the man and did not act recklessly in his actions, then he could not be liable for the man’s injuries and granted summary judgment for the personal trainer and gym.
Personal trainers may also face liability if they work outside the scope of their employment. As personal trainers can be considered as members of the fitness, medical and health industries, they often may be confronted with questions from their clients regarding nutritional or other health issues. Personal trainers must realize that providing such advice or guidance may open them up for liability if the client is injured some way after following the advice important case in New York from 1999, Capati v. Crunch Fitness Intl. et al., set out the dangers to personal trainers who offer advice or guidance outside their expertise. In that case, a woman died after taking a dietary supplement recommended by her personal trainer that adversely reacted with her hypertension problems. As reported by the New York Times, the woman’s estate sought $320 million in punitive and compensatory damages from the personal trainer, the gym and the drug manufacturer. The case ultimately settled after almost ten years of litigation for an undisclosed sum, demonstrating the enormous economic and legal liability working outside the scope of employment can impose on a personal trainer.
In addition to any injuries a client may sustain from taking their nutritional, medical or other advice, a personal trainer may also be liable for charges of unauthorized practice of medicine. In the case of giving advice about dietary changes, use of nutritional supplements or even certain physical therapy regimens, a personal trainer may be found guilty of issuing such advice without a relevant license to do so and may face large economic penalties.
Each of these problems of personal liability for personal trainers should make those racing into the profession to take pause and first inform themselves of these issues. Many personal trainers have found themselves facing thousands of dollars of liability for actions they did not know were unlawful. While the profession is certainly one that can bring enormous gain for many individuals, workers jumping in feet first and uninformed of the issues at hand might be surprised at the legal and economic problems they may soon face.

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