May 13 2015

Lawsuits Against Health Clubs

From the time a club opens in the morning until the last member leaves, there are countless issues that need to be addressed. Between dealing with facility issues and making sure all of the equipment is functioning properly to responding to the needs of the members, there are not enough hours in the day to address the variety of issues that come up every day. There are just as many legal issues that potentially arise in the running of a club. By being aware of the issues which might arise clubs will be better prepared to address the issues when they do arise.

Like any business or individual, clubs do not want to be spending time and resources defending a lawsuit. It is therefore critical to understand the "types" of claims that are brought in a health club setting. Like any other facility, whether it be a grocery store, a restaurant, or a sporting goods store, a club faces potential claims resulting from people being injured as a result of a "condition" of the property. If a club fails to maintain the interior or exterior of the premises in a safe and reasonable fashion, a club could be sued by someone injured as a result of any such condition. Some lawsuits that have alleged negligence in the overall maintenance of the premises include claims arising out of a slip and fall in the locker room; a member whose nose was broken because of the door leading into the gym malfunctioning; a member who was struck by a falling mirror; and claims brought by individuals who either trip on a crack in asphalt or slip and fall on snow or ice outside of the club. In all of these instances, the claims had nothing to do with the "health club operations" and were solely related to some aspect of the premises not being appropriately maintained.

A type of claim that relates more directly to the health club operations is a claim premised upon the club improperly maintaining or setting up the area where members will exercise. In one claim a club was sued when a dumbbell fell onto a member's foot, and the club was blamed for allowing the dumbbell to be left on a rack in a location such that it would potentially fall on a member. In another case, the club was sued when a member claimed that he was injured because the equipment was set up so closely that the member could not safely perform his exercises.

Not surprisingly, the most prevalent type of claim is one based upon allegations that the equipment is “defective.” The most obvious example of a claim that is based upon equipment would be a claim in which there was literally a malfunction of the equipment. One member brought suit based upon a claim that a stack of weights suddenly dropped onto her hand because there was a malfunction relative to the pin which held the weight in place. In a separate subset of claims it will be alleged that the equipment was "defective" because of insufficient warnings relative to the equipment. In the most egregious example of this, a member who injured himself while attempting to squat 750 pounds on a Smith machine claimed that the machine was unsafe because there were no warnings telling him not to use excessive amounts of weight and not warning him to use safety stops on the Smith machines.

A separate type of claim is one in which it is alleged that an employee of the club is negligent, usually in the setting of an employee trainer who is claimed to have been negligent in connection with someone working out at the club. In the case in which the member attempted to squat 750 pounds on the Smith machine, the member incredibly blamed the employees of the club for not warning him of the dangers of doing so. In a separate claim, a club was sued because a trainer was allegedly negligent in having the class use equipment during the class in a fashion which was contrary to how the equipment was supposed to be used. The fundamental allegation in these claims is that the accident was caused by employees (trainers or otherwise) who either improperly instructed members to perform a dangerous exercise or failed to intervene upon witnessing someone performing a potentially dangerous exercise without intervening.

Not all clubs have swimming pools, but those that do face potential liability in situations where group lessons are being taught or in larger pool scenarios in which larger groups are using the pool where lifeguards are being provided. Claims have been brought against clubs as a result of fatalities in pools where it has been alleged that the ratio of lifeguards to pool occupants was inadequate or where the lifeguards were not stationed in appropriate locations around the pool.

Finally, clubs potentially face liability if there is a medical emergency that the club does not respond to appropriately. If a club's response to a member having a sudden emergency causes the ultimate outcome to be worse than it would have been if the club responded appropriately, the club could face liability.

The fact that there are potentially so many scenarios that could lead to a club being sued might suggest that claims against clubs are inevitable. While a club cannot do anything to insure that it will never be sued, recognizing the types of claims that might lead to a lawsuit is the first important step in preventing a time-consuming and costly lawsuit.

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