Online health, wellness and holistic health coaching is gaining popularity with the clients of our law firm. The internet and creation of multiple virtual platform options for coaches has allowed coaches to expand their business and clients to across the nation, and even globally.
With expansion of coaching services to multiple states comes additional legal exposure in those states. The potential legal exposure can be from clients in those foreign states or state regulators in those foreign states. Here is a brief explanation as to how those legal issues can arise.
Getting Sued by Out-of-State Clients
If one of your coaching clients gets hurt or just doesn’t like the way you practice coaching, they may want to sue you for malpractice or intentional infliction of emotional distress, for example. If you are purposefully targeting your coaching business to their state (or targeting your business nationally), then the client could sue you in a court located in the client’s home state, even if you never set foot in that state. Your online contacts with the foreign state could be enough to hail you into court in that foreign state. Of course, if you find yourself in such a situation, you should contact your wellness lawyer for guidance about how to respond. Also, to protect yourself from these types of lawsuits, you will want a solid consent form and other legal documents that can prevent these kinds of legal troubles from occurring in the first place. Contact our law firm to learn more.
Getting Sued by Out-of-State Government Regulators
If one of your clients or competitors in a foreign state doesn’t like what you do, they may decide to file a complaint with a licensing board in that state. Depending on the type of coaching you do, someone could complain to the state medical board, nursing board, dietitian board, athletic training board, psychology or mental health counselor board. These boards could conclude that your coaching practice constitutes the unlicensed practice of one of those licensed professions. In many cases, the unlicensed practice of a profession is a crime. Under Article IV of the U.S. Constitution, a person who is located in one state can be “extradited” to a foreign state that has charged the person with a crime committed in that foreign state. So, if a state licensing board has a coach charged with a crime, even if that coach has never physically set foot in that foreign state, the coach may be forced to appear in that foreign state to face those criminal charges.
Is prosecution by a foreign state for health or wellness coaching likely to happen? Not really, especially if no one is harmed by the coaching. Could the coach be prosecuted by their home state licensing boards? Yes. Is that likely? According to our research of medical licensing boards, probably not. But, there is always a risk.
What Can a Health and Wellness Coach Do to Reduce their Legal Risk of Lawsuits or Criminal Charges?
The best thing a coach can do to mitigate legal risk from lawsuits or criminal charges is to stay within their coaching scope of practice. Being familiar with state laws where the online coach has clients can help, particularly the laws of the licensed professions that may have some relation to coach’s services. But, educating, informing, supporting and holding clients accountable to their goals is a safer way to practice coaching than getting involved with ordering labs, taking health histories or developing treatment plans for clients.
Another way coaches can reduce their legal risk is to use documents and language that will protect them from lawsuits and set the proper expectations with clients. Our firm has created numerous resources for health and wellness coaches and consultants just like you. We have created a starter kit for launching a health or wellness coaching business, as well as training videos to learn more about the legal basics of starting such a business. We specialize in making sure you feel comfortable with your coaching or consulting practice from a legal standpoint, so that you can deliver the best services to your clients. Contact us today to help your coaching or consulting business thrive!