As the UK’s lock down continues, exercisers turn to social media and digital channels while gyms are shut. But are there public liability risks associated with online home exercise classes, Insurance Times finds out 

On 20 March, prime minister Boris Johnson ordered selected venues, including restaurants, beauty salons and gyms, to close their businesses temporarily as part of the lock down to mitigate the global spread of Covid-19.

The fitness, exercise and leisure sector was one of many industries to be heavily affected by this decision. But as it turns to providing online workouts and classes, what are the insurance implications if exercise participants injure themselves during a home workout?

According to the 2019 State of the UK Fitness Industry Report by independent database firm LeisureDB, the number of UK fitness facilities grew by 2.9% between March 2018 and March 2019, up from 7,038 to 7,239 venues. Memberships grew by 4.7% over the same period, with 10.4 million Brits - one in every seven – being gym members in 2019.

The UK penetration rate for the fitness sector was 15.6% at March 2019, while the UK industry’s total market value grew by 4.2%, rising to £5.1bn.


Although this upwards industry trajectory has undoubtedly been halted in its tracks by the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown, the fitness sector has proved its resilience by turning on-site, in-person exercise activities into online services and experiences that entire families can perform at home.

This includes, for example, streaming live workouts via social media, recording and uploading exercise videos to YouTube, as well as offering coaching or personal training on Zoom or Skype.

But what if home exercise participants are injured while following the actions and movements of instructors or trainers employed by their regular gym or leisure centre?

These businesses typically hold public liability insurance, which covers the cost of both legal action and compensation claims if a third party is injured while at the business’s premises, or if trainers and instructors are working at the client’s home, office or business property.

The explosion of online and digital exercise regimes since the UK’s lock down begun will certainly have blurred these policy wording lines – is a personal trainer working at their client’s home if giving instruction via Skype? And should exercise class instructors be held accountable if a participant is injured while following a pre-recorded YouTube session, when the instructor is unable to offer constructive feedback?

Potential for claims

Richard Salvini, partner at Plexus Law, said that he is “seeing an increase in enquiries about potential liabilities relating to home exercise classes. Specifically, are operators, under their public liability insurance policy, covered for any customers who may injure themselves whilst undertaking online, virtual gym sessions?”

He continued: “There is certainly the potential for claims. However the likelihood of a successful claim will very much depend on the circumstances.

“For a claim to succeed, the claimant must establish that a breach of duty of care has occurred. This tends to require a proximity of relationship, as well as interaction, and in circumstances where a generic YouTube video is providing general advice to a broad audience of people, this would be difficult to prove. As such, we don’t think the likes of Joe Wicks have cause for concern.

“That said, in circumstances where individual personal training is provided – via a Zoom meeting, for example – and where it could be proved that advice given by a personal trainer was negligent, there could be grounds for an injury claim.”

Allianz believes home exercise-related claims could be around the corner as the lockdown continues.

Stuart Toal, casualty account manager, added: “Allianz has not seen a frequency of these type of claims. However the exposure is likely to increase as the restriction of movement period extends and the general public seek more ways of exercising.”

What is covered?

Since the lockdown started, some insurers have clarified that their public liability policies will extend to online exercise classes.

For example, Paul Williams, chief executive of Ripe Insurance, parent company of sports insurance specialist Insure4Sport, said that it is covering online sessions and classes for up to 30 gym members at one time at no extra cost – including via channels such as Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams.

The insurer is also covering pre-recorded classes broadcast via channels such as Facebook Live or YouTube to existing fitness customers.

“Insurance is not getting the best press during this pandemic, but hopefully [these actions] will provide the general public with something positive to say about our industry,” Williams added.

“Most importantly we would like to think that, in a small way, we are helping our customers keep their livelihoods going, protecting them and helping their families.”

Allianz, however, is taking a more measured approach.

Toal said: “Allianz would extend our public liability insurances to include interactive exercise classes. Insureds should, however, always notify their insurer of any changes to their business activities to ensure that appropriate cover remains in place.

“While it is unlikely that legal liability will attach to an instructor for a customer damaging their own property or suffering injury – for example, tripping over a rug – during a virtual exercise session, it is essential that the same level of care and instruction that would be afforded to a gym user is provided to the remote customer.

“Social media delivered, or non-interactive exercise classes represent a much larger risk and would not automatically be covered unless Allianz had been advised of the exposure and accepted the risk.

“Such classes may be viewed by many customers over a long time frame and, without the ability for the instructor to check the ages of participants, or the suitability of the exercise or equipment, this can therefore represent a significant injury risk.”

Risk mitigation

So, how can insurers and brokers advise gym owner clients or policyholders about the public liability risks of virtual exercise sessions?

Williams said Ripe has “issued important risk management guidance to anyone carrying out an online session” to fitness instructors.

He continued: “We’ve provided instructors with clear advice to ask all participants in either live or pre-recorded sessions to check their space is safe, with no obstacles or hazards, that they are fit and well to complete the class and that they use any equipment in line with manufacturers’ guidelines.”

Salvini added that for online personal training sessions, via Zoom for example, operators should consider providing a “carefully worded disclaimer to make customers aware of the potential risks”.

Gym owners should also consider issuing clear guidance on best practice for trainers, as well as use an online medical questionnaire to ensure that exercisers do not have any underlying health issues that could be affected by the workout.

“Straightforward steps like properly warming up and ensuring that the activity space is clear from objects [or] risks will assist with defensibility,” Salvini continued. “These simple but important steps will go a long way towards minimising this risk, for both operators and their insurers, and also customers.”