Jiu-Jitsu students get hurt, plain and simple. Jiu-Jitsu is not, statistically, a particularly dangerous sport, but rest assured, injuries will happen at your gym.
5 Steps For BJJ Gym Owners To Lower Financial Risks From Injuries:
- All Members Sign a Liability Waiver
- Systematize Your Gym Hygiene
- Use Incident Reports & Video Monitoring
- Form an LLC
- Buy Adequate Gym Insurance
And with the average injury lawsuit settlement being $52,000 and some lawsuits against gyms paying out millions of dollars, an injury that leads to a lawsuit against the gym is among the most significant financial risks a Jiu-Jitsu gym owner faces.
That said, there are some pretty simple steps gym owners can take to significantly reduce the reduce the risk of financial ruin due to student injuries.
Here are 5 steps to lower your financial risk as a gym owner from member injuries:
STEP 1: Everyone Signs a Liability Waiver
Liability waivers work… when they’re well-drafted, signed, and stored.
Every student in your gym knows that participating in Jiu-Jitsu training is inherently dangerous. But until you ask your students to sign a document acknowledging that they “assume the risks” and which states that they waive the right to sue you for ordinary negligence, then that knowledge means nothing legally.
When a member signs a liability waiver, however, it’s a very powerful tool in warding off lawsuits.
Your gym needs a reliable system for ensuring that every new student, before their first class, signs a well-drafted liability and assumption of risk waiver, and you need to make sure that document is stored for the long-term.
While it’s true that liability waivers only protect you from general negligence lawsuits (not gross negligence or recklessness), they still eliminate the vast majority of lawsuits against a well-run gym. So make sure you’re using them. Every time.
STEP 2: Systematize Your Gym Hygiene
Anyone who has spent 5 minutes in a Jiu-Jitsu gym could guess that hand and foot injuries are the most commonly reported BJJ injuries. But, less obvious, is that when it comes to injuries that require medical care, skin infections are the leader. And in terms of gym owner liability, staph infections, which can, if untreated, can lead to sepsis, and even serious injury or death, are potentially the biggest and most preventable liability risks.
So, one of the best ways to lower your gym’s risk, is to have a good gym hygiene system in place. Your gym’s hygiene plan should, for example, include the following…
Clean the Mats
Your gym needs a reliable system for cleaning the mats with an anti-fungal solution as often as practicable. Your rule might be that the last guys to show up for class, the last guys to leave the mat, or the instructor clean the mats. Whatever it is, have a system and ensure it’s actually followed and confirmed with a signed maintenance log. That maintenance log will also serve as an excellent legal defense against claims of “gross negligence” should a serious infection occur despite diligent cleaning.
Keep Shoes Off The Mats
Minimize the possibility of tracking outside germs onto the mats by having a strict ‘no shoes on the mats’ policy. It should go without saying, no food on the mats as well.
Encourage Post-Training Showers With Anti-Fungal Shampoo
If you have showers in your gym, encourage members to use them and stock them with anti-fungal shampoo and soap. A prompt post-workout shower is a powerful infection preventative.
No Open Sores
This should be obvious, but have a written policy that members can’t be on the mats with open sores or skin infections of any sort (even minor ones).
Shame The Stinkers
Members should be washing their gear post-workout…every time. That means nobody should be storing their dirty clothes at the gym between workouts. And if it appears that someone isn’t maintaining good hygiene, have instructors make a classwide announcement that it’s not only considerate, it’s a requirement of the gym in order to minimize the risk of infections.
STEP 3: Always Complete an Incident Report and Retain Video Evidence
If an injury occurs, you want a detailed record of what actually happened in order to prevent a story being concocted down the road.
First, use an incident report. An incident report is just what it sounds like, a document (download a free one here) that your staff is trained to fill out whenever any incident, whether that’s an injury, disciplinary, or physical damage to the building or equipment occurs. Completing an incident report is important in minimizing your financial risk from a student injury, because it captures the facts, as they actually occurred (“contemporaneously” is the legal term), as opposed to whatever story an attorney is telling months later as part of their lawsuit.
Second, in addition to having your staff use incident reports, encourage members to do so too in order to notify you, in writing, of any hazards at the gym (broken equipment, etc.). Using written incident forms better insulates you from arguments that you were informed of the hazard verbally but did nothing, which is a common line by attorneys looking to get their clients around a signed liability waiver by arguing that you committed “gross negligence” by ignoring a known problem which led to an injury.
That all assumes, of course, that when you’re notified in writing, you do actually take swift action to protect members against the potential harm of the hazard.
Finally, make sure that your video surveillance is preserved any time there is an injury. This serves a similar purpose as an incident report. As a responsible gym owner, you’re not really afraid of the ‘truth’ of what happened coming out. What you want to prevent is someone concocting stories months down the line when they’ve got lawsuit settlement dollars on the brain. Video evidence prevents those stories from gaining any traction.
STEP 4: Form an LLC
You didn’t start a gym because you love paperwork and forms. But this one is important. You need to have a legal entity for your gym.
To make things simple, you can assume your gym should be a Limited Liability Company (LLC). There are a half dozen different types of legal entities (S-Corps, C-Corps, etc.) but there are so few legitimate reasons you need to pick one of them, that running your gym as an LLC should be the default option.
LLC’s are cheap to form ($200 – $400), cheap and easy to administer, and, most importantly, they dramatically lower your personal financial risk from a student injury. That’s because, if you don’t have an LLC, your personal assets (e.g. your family’s car, house, checking account, etc.) are all, legally speaking, considered part of the gym in the event of a lawsuit.
By simply forming and properly maintaining an LLC (basic instructions and free documents here) to conduct all of your gym related business, however, your personal and business assets are legally separated, so that if your gym is sued for a student injury, your personal assets are off-limits in the lawsuit.
STEP 5: Buy Adequate Jiu-Jitsu Gym Insurance
If your gym is sued, and you have insurance, the insurance company will be the ones paying your lawyers and any settlements (within policy limits), not you.
We have an entire article about gym insurance that, if you haven’t yet, you should read to learn the nitty gritty. But the short story is, there are some minimum insurance policies that every gym needs. These include:
- Martial Arts Insurance (which should contain both General Liability and Accidental Medical coverages); and
- Professional Liability Insurance
Beyond those essentials, there are tons of options like commercial property insurance, worker’s compensation, or any umbrella policy. Obviously, customize your insurance to your specific needs. And if you’re wealthy, customize coverage levels to protect your personal and professional nest egg. Remember, lawyers are suing you to recover money. They know that if you’re not wealthy, there’s no use in suing you for more than the value of your insurance policies. By contrast, if you happen to have a lot of personal or business assets, those can be prime targets for lawsuit payouts, so you need to make sure that you’ve got insurance coverage with limits that match or exceed your personal wealth.
If you run a Jiu-Jitsu gym, people are going to get injured. No matter what you do. BJJ isn’t a particularly dangerous sport, but it’s intensely physical, and ultimately, injuries aren’t completely avoidable.
But, taking a little time to reduce the likelihood of serious injuries, and protecting yourself and your gym from financial ruin when those injuries do inevitably occur, is not only responsible, it’s smart business.
So use the 5 steps outlined in this article to better protect yourself, your gym, and your members from student injuries. As you’ve seen in this article, it’s pretty easy stuff.
This article is intended for informational purposes only. Neither SimpleGym LLC or its author, offer, nor intend to offer, professional or legal advice. Consult with your attorney for individualized professional risk mitigation advice suited to your unique business’ needs.