No matter how carefully you monitor your gym members, clients or group exercise participants, accidents do happen, making your facility vulnerable to lawsuits and negative PR. One way to mitigate the damage to your business after an incident is to gather eyewitness reports that paint a picture of what actually happened. Without witness statements, it comes down to the injured party’s word against yours, and a personal injury lawyer will try to get the highest possible payout for their client.
Use Only Credible Witnesses
Even if you manage to identify one or more witnesses to an incident, it is important to make sure your witnesses are credible. A witness who lacks credibility can actually do more harm than good to your case.
Some questions to ask before requesting a witness statement include:
- Did the witness actually see the incident, or did they just hear it, or enter the scene after the incident occurred?
- Did the witness see the entire incident from start to finish, or did they just hear about it from someone else?
- What was the witness doing, and where were they standing at the time the incident occurred?
- Is the witness’s vision, hearing and memory reliable?
- Is the witness known to be honest and respectable?
- Does the witness have any personal or financial interest in the claim?
Generally, if a witness statement is used in court, the witness must be willing to show up in person and give their testimony of what they saw. It is important to gather as many credible witnesses as possible, since some may be reluctant to testify.
Important Witness Statement Details
Remember that witness statements can be used against you, so be careful to ask for specific information that gives a realistic and truthful picture of what occurred.
Some important details to include in a witness statement are:
- Name, age and role (e.g. gym member, class participant, instructor, trainer, front desk staff, client).
- Date and time the incident occurred. Try to be as specific as possible.
- Accurate details about the location where the incident occurred. For example, “In the locker room, near the showers.”
- Accurate description of what happened and the names of those involved, including staff and members/participants.
- A factual account of what was seen/heard. Do not speculate about what happened, or give opinions about why you think the incident occurred.
- How was the incident responded to by staff or other members? Were emergency services contacted? Was first aid given?
- Date and time the witness statement was completed. Ideally, you want to get witness statements as soon as possible after the incident occurred. Statements taken after several hours or days may hold less weight in court.
Know Your Rights and Responsibilities
As a business owner, it is in your best interest to understand your legal rights and responsibilities when incidents occur, and to educate your staff on how to respond. You can learn more about legal issues through any of the W.I.T.S. Certification programs, like Personal Fitness Trainer, Group Exercise Instructor, Older Adult Fitness Specialist, or Fitness Management.