You’ve been sued …
Those three words are probably the three most horrific words in small business …
And depending on how big your business and profile grows, you become more and more likely to hear those words; after all, Microsoft got sued by the federal government.
And on a smaller level almost anyone could come out of the woodwork and drop a suit on you, most notable of which would be one of your clients.
So no doubt, as solo trainers, getting sued is a big things on our minds.
“How to protect yourself” is something that’s get talked about a lot on the forums, but since I’m not a lawyer I’ll stay out of that discussion (and if you read the SIX-FIGURE FORMULA you know how I feel about lawyers so I won’t get into that again).
But I do have some strong, proven ideas to share with you about prevention.
This was talked about recently in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink” (if you haven’t read any of Gladwell’s book, including “The Tipping Point” and “Outliers”, they’re more fun than comic books).
He talked about the reasons doctor’s get sued in one of the chapters in the book, and what he discovered may shock you.
This is important for us as personal trainers too because as I’ve mentioned many times before, there are a lot of parallels between us and private practice doctors.
Well, what he mentioned was this: that if you looked at their education and credentials, ie who was the better doctor, you would NOT get any idea of who gets sued more.
What that means is it’s not the “better” doctors that get sued less.
Do you want to know what it comes down to? It was the relationship. Here was the bottom line:
“Patients don’t sue doctors they like.”
What they found is that just by listening to snippets of their conversations, you could figure out which doctor’s were getting sued less.
Doctors that were sued more were typically less “personal”. Based on bringing their observations down to the most minute snippets of interaction between patient and doctor, this is the exact quote from the book:
“In the end it comes down to a matter of respect, and the simplest way that respect is communicated is through the tone of voice, and the most corrosive tone of voice that a doctor can assume is a dominant tone.”
Ha! Did you catch that? They could figure out who was getting sued more by the tone of voice! Not credentials, not income, not anything else…
Not even whether actual incidents of malpractice were occurring!
Pretty amazing huh? With something as serious as and pervasive as a malpractice suit, what it really all comes down to is whether they like the doctor or not: the relationship.
So if that reminds you to keep the “personal” in personal training, I’m sure it’s not new news to you.
Taking care of your clients is one of the best things you can do. With all the marketing tricks and influence tactics out there, bottom line is taking care of people never goes out of style or stops being effective.
Every trainer worth her/his salt will tell you a story of one client turning into a series of five to ten referrals. It becomes very easy to make six figures in a short period of time if that’s happening.
And they’ll also tell you they can charge high rates and retain clients indefinitely because of the strength of the personal aspect of what they bring to the table.
Just wanted to put that out there for you to chew on – I’m sure the whole lawsuit thing is big on your mind as a trainer so I wanted to point out the real reasons behind why it happens.
You still have to protect your back in case it happens – but just like with the services we sell and how we should run essentially everything important to us, prevention is the ultimate cure.
Want more articles on personal training and client service? Then check these out:
The importance of punctuality for Personal Trainers.
The definitive article on Personal Training Clients.
Your primer on relationship selling for Personal Trainers.
Good article man. This is the kind of information that trainers need to read! I recently heard from a legal professional, who specializes with independent contractors, that although an LLC is an extra layer for shielding your personal assets from your business, it doesn’t exempt you from being sued personally. He also pointed out that no matter if you go with a DBA or an LLC, make sure all your clients sign a waiver, be sure to always hold valid liability insurance and most always OVER DELIVER on customer service; and your chances of ever being sued, while still a possibility, will be slim to none.
Great post Kaiser!
Thanks for contributing to the discussion James. Yes protection is necessary, but prevention is the ultimate cure, and that’s what I wanted to cover in this post.
Thanks Jonathan – more great ones to come –
Great post as always Kaiser! Personality and common sense will prevent 99% of the lawsuits in my opinion. Don’t have someone with a herniated disk doing 315 on squats lol. Fortunately I have never been a victim of a lawsuit but there are products out there to protect trainers. I signed up for a service through Pre-Paid Legal Services that provides attorneys in case of a lawsuit. They also review our contracts, send out debt collection letters, provide legal consultation and much more for a low monthly fee. One of my clients is actually a broker for them, http://www.prepaidlegal.com/hub/ryanwalker. I recommend them because they have saved me hundreds if not thousands in attorney fees plus peace of mind in case we get sued.
I liked this post, and it is very relevant to all personal trainers. My company, which is a S- Corp experienced a similar lawsuit in 2002. The PT client signed both liability, and financial contracts which were witness by a third party. 100% legal.. The client got chicken shit over a few tough workouts, and decided to bail on my best trainer. She demanded her $3000 back due to on onset of Epstein Barr Virus. (She was extra fatigued) Although untested with the usual expensive titers involved, she managed to get a MD letter for justification. We went to court, it got super heated and ended up costing excessive attorney’s fee. Long story short, we refunded the $3000. If you have a client who is a crusader like this one, it can get nuts.. Best to try to negotiate, or start new clients on smaller packages, to see if they can hack what you deliver..
This is timely to say the least. I just received a call from a lawyer. They wanted me to be an expert witness in a case against a personal trainer. I wouldn’t usually bother with it (I feel about lawyers the same as many of you do), but the case intrigued me. Plus I believe in Karma and if something ever happened where I was to get sued, I would want someone credible to get involved. I obviously can’t talk about the case, but after sitting and listening about it in detail, it dawned on me how easy it is to drop a lawsuit on someone. Whether they are negligent or not.