How Liability and Regulation Pose Threats to Unprepared Fitness Professionals – Club Industry

Posted: October 11, 2019 at 4:51 pm

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The last 40 years have seen dramatic changes in the fitness industry. Generally, those changes have brought about various improvements to the industry, including those related to consumer safety. Some of the changes that have been made and even some of those still developing have been caused by the legal system and its impact upon the industry. The impact has taken several formsdirect litigation against fitness service providers and personnel; product liability litigation against certain equipment designers, manufacturers and end-use fitness service providers; and proposed or enacted legislation to regulate either the industry or some of its providers, such as personal trainers.

Some of the foregoing litigation has resulted in substantial monetary verdicts in favor of injured consumers, including at least one verdict reported in The Exercise Standards and Malpractice Reporter in excess of $320 million. The industry took note of this litigation and others and responded with proposals to establish industry standards and guidelines and to implement a variety of certification programs to improve the qualifications of fitness professionals in their provision of fitness programs and services to consumers.

Despite these efforts, no industry wide uniform standards and guidelines for the delivery of fitness services have been adopted to date. In fact, a previous effort to do so failed due to organizational and due process considerations related to the creation of the group established to adopt the standards and guidelines and the process used in doing so. As a consequence, the standards group leading the effort had to withdraw the standards statement which had been developed through what was determined to be a defective process.

At the same time, the certification process for fitness professionals expanded in some respects and now appears to offer a myriad of basic and specialty certifications that in many respects has developed into an alphabet soup of acronyms and offerings. To say that the certification offerings put forth by a number of certifying organizations are voluminous and sometimes confusing would be an understatement. One must question if all of these certifications are necessary or even desirable. Some of the certifications may move dangerously close to sanctioning the provision of services that have been traditionally left to delivery by regulated or licensed health care service providers.

The perceived failure of the fitness industry to govern itself has also resulted in a number of state laws or proposals to regulate or require licensing for certain industry programs or personnel. These proposals have included requirements for the creation of emergency response programs such as the installation of mandatory automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in certain health and fitness facilities in some states. Some of these proposals have become law and more may be expected. Proposals have also been put forth to license or otherwise regulate fitness service providers, including personal trainers. Although no states presently require licensing for fitness professionals, many in the industry believe it is only a matter of time until licensing is required, especially if additional and/or severe injuries or deaths occur to fitness service consumers due to the alleged negligent conduct of some fitness professionals.

Given the foregoing background and considering a myriad of other factors, there are clear threats to the fitness industry arising from the legal arena. These might be identified and evaluated as follows:

These five areas of potential threat to the industry can be addressed and minimized. Proactive efforts to do so should be carefully considered, mapped out, planned and implemented. Past mistakes can and should be corrected. If properly done, threats to the fitness industry can and should be minimized even if not totally eliminated.


David L. Herbert is an attorney at law at David L. Herbet & Associates, LLC, Attorneys & Counselors at Law, in Canton, Ohio. You can learn more about his work at

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How Liability and Regulation Pose Threats to Unprepared Fitness Professionals - Club Industry

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October 11th, 2019 at 4:51 pm

Posted in Health and Fitness