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The Informed Consent/Release Form: What is it, and why do you need it?

As fitness professionals, we know that the health benefits of physical fitness far outweigh the risks inherent in participating in physical activities. Nevertheless, those risks do exist, especially when working with overweight, out of shape clients who may also have pre-existing medical conditions. Despite your best efforts to protect your clients from injury, incidents do occur, and it is important to have documentation that mitigates your liability, and that of your facility. 

The Informed Consent/Release form is intended to inform your client of the potential risks of exercise, and of their responsibility for their own actions. It is also designed to minimize your liability if an incident or injury should occur. While not required by law, having the completed and signed form on file for each and every client can protect you if a lawsuit is filed following an incident. 

Elements of Liability

An Informed Consent/Release form will not protect you from being sued, but it will provide documentation that reduces your share of liability. In a negligence lawsuit, there are four elements to be considered:

  1. Duty: The defendant (in this case you) was legally responsible to protect your client from injury.
  2. Breach: The defendant either acted in a way that caused injury, or failed to act in a way to prevent it, breaching their duty.
  3. Causation: The defendant’s action or inaction caused the plaintiff’s (client’s) injury. 
  4. Damages: The plaintiff was injured or damaged as a direct result of the defendant’s actions.

As fitness professionals, we are obligated to protect our clients from injury or harm, while simultaneously helping them to get results. That poses a conundrum of sorts. Since fitness improves as a direct result of overload, we must push our clients beyond their comfort zone to get results, yet doing so increases their risk of injury. 

How Informed Consent/Release Protects You

Statistically, people who exercise under the supervision of a trainer or instructor are less likely to get injured. However, should an injury or other incident occur (a heart attack, for example), you may find yourself targeted by a lawsuit. Having your documents in order increases your appearance of professionalism and demonstrates that you take your job seriously. 

A detailed Informed Consent/Release form should include the following elements:

  • A statement of release of liability
  • A detailed description of the fitness professional’s duties
  • A detailed description of potential risks
  • The specific responsibilities of the client or participant
  • The client’s contact information, signature and date

A signed Informed/Consent Release form provides your attorney with a legal tool to argue in your favor. It may protect you from having to pay expensive damages, and could even save your job and career. If you have liability insurance (which you should), the Informed Consent/Release form can reduce the amount your insurance company has to pay, and can keep your premium costs low. 

It is a good idea to renew the Informed Consent/Release periodically. You may want to do so each time a client purchases a new package of sessions, or at least once a year, on the anniversary of their initial contract. You should also have a current physician’s release form on file when appropriate, along with a behavior contract, detailed session records and progress reports. Keeping your documents in order for each client shows that you are a responsible fitness professional.

Resources

As sports and fitness become more competitive and demanding, W.I.T.S.  is keeping pace with continuing education that keeps you in the know. As a fitness professional, you need to stay a step ahead of your clients and competitors if you want to be recognized as a top fitness service provider. Lay the foundation with a certification as Personal Fitness Trainer, Group Exercise Instructor or Fitness Manager. Then, get valuable renewal credits while you hone your skills with courses like Business Success for Fitness Professionals. Don’t let your competitors leave you in the dust. Take the lead by staying in step with the latest trends and research in fitness with W.I.T.S.

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