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Here’s a warning for all fitness professionals: Most liability insurance policies do not cover punitive damages.

aggravation of the injury due to the delay will go uncompensated. The goal is to compensate the client for injuries caused by someone else’s negligence, not injuries caused by the client’s negligence.

Punitive Damages

One severe form of recovery is punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded to penalize the defendant (meaning you), in order to deter future offenses. For punitive damages to be awarded, a trainer’s conduct must be extreme and/or deliberate. More specifically, in a negligence case, conduct must be reckless, willful or wanton in order to justify the punitive damages award.

Here’s a warning for all fitness professionals: Most liability insurance policies do not cover punitive damages (Glannon 2000). Should you be involved in a suit that requires you to pay punitive damages, and your policy contains no exclusions regarding such damages, be aware that your premiums are likely to skyrocket or your coverage could be canceled. Unfortunately, it is not possible to buy a supplemental rider to your existing insurance policy to guard against the potential for punitive damages.

Wrongful Death Statutes

One final matter related to damages is any situation in which a trainer’s negligence results in a client’s death. This is particularly timely considering the vast number of nutritional dietary supplements currently being hyped and promoted in fitness environments. Consider the following hypothetical scenario: A woman dies owing to the use of an over-the-counter ephedrine supplement, which was recommended to her by her personal fitness trainer. Since this client is now dead, she cannot sue. So, does the trainer get off free as a bird? Absolutely not! The decedent’s heirs can file the negligence suit against the trainer and/or the health club where the trainer practices. In fact, this very scenario was recently litigated and settled in the case of Capati v. Crunch Fitness International (296 A.D.2d 181 [N.Y. 2002]), in which the deceased plaintiff was represented by the administrator of her estate.

Most states have wrongful-death statutes that allow certain groups of people to recover for the loss sustained by
the death of a loved one (Prosser, Wade
& Schwartz 2000). The classes of persons allowed to collect under these statutes are usually the decedent’s spouse, children or parents (Prosser, Wade & Schwartz 2000). (Ordinarily, stepchildren and live-in companions are not permitted to collect under the statutes.) The court will make the determination as to exactly what financial loss each eligible family member experienced from the decedent’s death.

What is particularly interesting is how that financial loss is defined. Traditionally, financial losses have included economic support (e.g., mortgage payments) or household services (e.g., cooking, cleaning and gardening) (Prosser, Wade & Schwartz 2000). More recently, loss of companionship, loss of consortium and moral guidance have also been determined to be recoverable (Prosser, Wade & Schwartz 2000). n

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American Law Institute. 1979. Restatement of the Law of Torts (2nd ed.) St. Paul, MN: American Law Institute.
Capati v. Crunch Fitness International, 295 A.D.2d 181 (N.Y. 2002).
Champion, W. 2000. Sports Law in a Nutshell (2nd ed.). St. Paul, MN: West.
Connaughton, D., & Eickhoff-Shemek, J. 2003. Law for the health/fitness professional: Part III. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, 7 (2), 13–17.
Emanuel, S. 1999. The Emanuel Law Outline Series: Contracts. New York: Aspen Publishers.
Glannon, J. 2000. Torts: Examples and Explanations (2nd ed.). New York: Aspen Publishers.
Prosser, W., Wade, J., & Schwartz, V. 2000. Prosser, Wade, and Schwartz’s Cases and Materials on Torts (10th ed.). New York: The Foundation Press.

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