Premium Partners

False Claims and Assurances

Whether the advertising consists of television or radio spots, newspaper ads, brochures, websites or other approaches, it is important to make certain that no claims or promises are made that you cannot keep, because it is possible that any such claims or documents can be interpreted as part of your contract.

Most fitness centers find it necessary to do some sort of advertising to attract new clients. Whether the advertising consists of television or radio spots, newspaper ads, brochures, websites or other approaches, it is important to make your facility sound as attractive, pleasant and desirable as possible. It is equally important, however, to make certain that no claims or promises are made that you cannot keep, because it is possible that any such claims or documents can be interpreted as part of your contract. Following are some examples of false claims and assurances that should never appear in your ads, promotions or literature:
1. You will be completely safe in our fitness center and on our equipment. 2. Worried about injuries? Don't be, because safety is our first priority, and we can assure you that participation in all of our programs is perfectly safe. 3. Our high standards and our well-trained staff will ensure that you have an injury-free fitness experience. 4.We guarantee that you will become fit, lose weight, be healthier and live longer.

Reality Check

It is one thing to state, "We take steps to reduce the likelihood of injury," and quite another to say, "You will be completely safe in our facility and on our equipment."You can list steps that you take to reduce the likelihood of injury (e.g., screen and hire qualified personnel, train your employees, inspect the equipment on a regular schedule and instruct clients in the proper use of equipment). On the other hand, you cannot make your facility or equipment completely safe and injury-free. Likewise, informing clients that injuries are rare (if you have records to support the statement) is more easily defended than saying, "We can assure you that participation in all of our programs is safe."Also, regardless of what your standards are and how well-trained your staff is, you can never guarantee clients an injury-free experience. It is important that you not make claims that will come back to bite you when an injury occurs.When promoting your fitness center, avoid the temptation to overstate claims, make promises you cannot keep or make assurances you cannot back up. For example, in a New York case, a client suffered a back injury while under the supervision of a personal trainer. The client sued, alleging, among other claims, that the qualifications of the trainer were not all they had been represented to be at the time the client purchased the fitness center's specialized training package. A primary goal of your marketing should be to achieve a balance in providing information 1) about the potential risks and dangers of the program (not minimizing them), and 2) providing details regarding the appealing aspects of your program. It is important that potential clients understand the risks and dangers of the program, as well as their own personal responsibility for their own safety. Disclosing these risks can 1) help to develop rapport with the client by showing concern for their safety, 2) reduce the likelihood of accidents or injuries by making the client aware of the possibility, and 3) reduce lawsuits because a more informed client is more prepared, psychologically, to deal with resulting injuries.

Risk-management guidelines

A well-planned risk-management program should include the following:
  • Clearly inform your members about the risks inherent in fitness activities.
  • Make certain that wording in ads, brochures and websites is consistent with the wording in your liability waiver and sales contract.
  • Make certain that your employees fully understand how important it is that verbal claims, assurances and promises not be made. Clients often quote unsound assurances made by employees regarding the safety of an activity or program.
  • Avoid the use of absolute statements, hyperbole, superlatives and vague terms that convey an inaccurate message. Stick to claims that you can back up with facts.
[Note: Much of this material was adapted from a presentation by Charles R.Gregg and Catherine Hansen-Stamp: Marketing Recreational Programs - Truth or Consequences, Recreation & Adventure Program Law and Liability Conference, Vail, Colo., April 2003.]
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