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Lunges, Lawsuits, And Liability

The District of Columbia and its surrounding suburban areas are home to some of the nation’s most fit residents. As a whole, the folks living in the DMV (D.C., Maryland, and Virginia) region are fitter than the rest of the country. One would be hard-pressed to stroll through the bustling metro area without passing a jogger (or several) or a trendy, new fitness studio. The DMV hosts a plethora of yoga studios, Crossfit boxes, Barre classes, and traditional gyms. Whether this is due to the region’s temperate climate, pedestrian friendly neighborhoods, or the 5,850 fitness trainers and aerobics instructors is unclear. In many ways public transportation, bike shares, and every fitness class imaginable encourage residents to pursue their fitness ambitions. The problem unique to the fitness industry is the question of liability for personal injuries.

Who is Responsible?

In general the hiring of a personal fitness instructor comes with certain expectations from both the instructor and the patron. The customer expects that the instructor will teach him or her how to exercise to achieve certain goals and will pay for the lesson. The instructor expects that his or her instructions are followed and are paid for their services. The complications arise when the instructor pushes the patron too far, ignores a health concern, or leads the patron down a path that results in injury.

The matter is complicated by the problem of licensure. In the United States, there is no centralized certifying body for personal trainers or instructors. Private companies set their own standards and private gyms hire trainers based on the company’s standards. It was not until 2014 that Washington passed a law requiring that trainers register with the city. As Senora Simpson, the therapy board’s chairwoman stated while testifying before Washington’s city council, “Even used car dealers can be reported to someone when the clunker fails.”

Why Does this Matter?

The underlying problem is that few gym patrons consider what will happen if they are injured while striving towards their beach bodies. What if this injury results in a disability? What if it means they are unable to work? How will bills be paid? These concerns all revolve around the same issue of liability. If a patron has paid for an instructor’s services and the instructor carelessly leads them down the path of injury, is that instructor liable? If the answer is “yes,” who is responsible for that instructor’s actions? Would the answer change if the gym had hired the personal trainer knowing they had almost no training whatsoever? Considering the consequences of reckless workouts, these truly are important questions. The answer could mean the difference between a safe and healthy recovery or financial ruin. Washington has yet to determine the regulations for personal trainers, but the issue is certainly a matter of discussion.

Justin Katz is a personal injury lawyer who represents injury victims in Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC
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