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Statutes Help Protect You from Liability

Volunteer Immunity, Good Samaritan and AED statutes provide protection from legal action.

Health and fitness providers - fitness centers, personal trainers and other fitness professionals - are often the target of lawsuits when clients suffer injury during fitness activities. Professionals usually realize and take advantage of the protection that is provided by liability waivers, liability insurance and sound risk-management programs. Most professionals, however, are less familiar with another protection: immunity statutes. True, most immunity statutes protect only government agencies and government employees, but some immunity statutes can be of value to private fitness professionals.

Volunteer immunity statutes

A volunteer immunity statute is one that protects some volunteers from liability for injuries resulting from the ordinary negligence of the volunteer. There are three types of volunteer statute.

The first is the federal Volunteer Protection Act (VPA), signed into law in 1997. The act is designed to provide liability protection for volunteers nationwide. Some qualifications must be met for the statute to apply. First, the volunteer must be volunteering to help a non-profit organization or governmental entity. Some fitness facilities are associated with and owned by city or county hospitals, and would be considered a governmental entity. Second, the act must be within the scope of the volunteer's duty. Third, the act applies only to ordinary negligence - not gross negligence or reckless acts. And finally, the statute does not apply to actions while operating a motor vehicle. While this statute will not protect volunteers in a private fitness center, it can help to protect volunteers at governmental fitness facilities (e.g., state universities, governmental agencies, municipal hospitals). This statute can also provide protection for any fitness professionals who volunteer to conduct an activity at a charity event.

In addition to the federal act, about half of the states have passed state volunteer immunity statutes. While these statutes vary somewhat from state to state, they are similar in nature to the VPA.

About 20 states have a recreation and sport volunteer immunity statute. When non-profit organizations found that people were reluctant to volunteer to coach and umpire in recreational sport leagues because of the potential liability, many states passed legislation designed to provide protection for volunteers. The acts vary tremendously from state to state, but usually have some common components. The organization must be non-profit or governmental (such as a county recreation department), and the volunteer must be unpaid (umpires may receive a small stipend), act in good faith and act within the scope of their duties. Protected parties may include coaches, officials, league official, athletic trainers and more - depending on the state.

Good Samaritan statutes

Good Samaritan statutes are designed to provide immunity from liability for persons who come to the aid of injured parties. These statutes vary from state to state, and do not provide unlimited protection. In a few states, only healthcare personnel are protected, and in some, all but healthcare personnel are protected. In almost all states, there must be no remuneration for care, the act must be in good faith and the act must occur in an emergency situation. In almost all states, protection is limited to ordinary negligence.

These immunity laws can be of value to anyone, fitness professional or not. However, while an ordinary person walking down the street has no legal duty to help a person in an emergency situation, professionals should realize that, in their place of business, there may be a legal duty to administer care in an emergency. In this case, failure to care for clients might be considered a breach of your legal duty, and carry liability.

AED statutes

AED statutes have been passed in every state in an effort to encourage the purchase and use of automated electronic defibrillators in public places. Some states have added this to their Good Samaritan statute, and many have a separate statute. The laws vary considerably from state to state, but generally provide liability protection for the provider of the AED and the user of the AED for ordinary negligence. It is important that professionals read and study the state AED immunity statute in order to be aware of the limitations of the statute and the requirements that must be met for immunity. This immunity is increasingly important, since Arkansas, California, New York, Louisiana, Oregon, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Michigan and Illinois have passed legislation mandating the availability of AEDs in health clubs. In addition, legislation is pending in a number of other states.

Fitness professionals should consult their local attorney to determine if they are protected by state or federal immunity statutes.

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