Injury to Knee Results in Costly Lawsuit Against Fitness Center

An injury could lead to litigation. Know how to protect yourself and your gym.

Picture this scenario: You open a gym. It’s going great. People are flocking to work out. Your vision for creating a community that fosters health and wellness is coming to fruition. You hire the best personal trainers who take the time to know the clients and prevent injury. Things couldn’t be better. 

Then one day, you’re rudely served with a summons and complaint. What? You are getting sued. By whom, when? Then you remember, a client complained of a strain to her knee doing the last set of lunges. She was older but was still working out well within her capabilities. Your trainer also never left her side during the entire workout. So, what happened? 

The strain resulted in a torn ligament which then required surgery. Your client is now out of work because her job requires being on her feet for long periods, which she can no longer do. She also has mounting medical bills that she is trying to take care of without a job.* 

While this seems like a disaster and very upsetting for both you and the client, you must look at where the liability falls at the end of the day. Who is responsible?

There are a few things you need to ask before throwing in the gym towel and admitting responsibility.

  1. What is the type of injury suffered by the client and its impact (damages) on the client’s life?
  2. Did you collect a waiver/release agreement signed by the client prior to participation?
  3. Was your gym and/or trainer negligent in their actions?

Gym injuries are commonplace.

Annually, emergency rooms see over 1500 patients due to gym-related injuries. Injuries from treadmill trips/falls make up the highest number with more than 570 occurrences every year. Next are weights and weight machines injuries as described in our blog Injuries at Gyms and Homes. 

A client’s injury isn’t necessarily due to negligence

While the health club in our cited example did end up getting sued, the appeals court ruled that it was not liable. Why? The court believed that the client knew there was an inherent risk of injury when entering the facility and engaging in any sort of physical activity. She also signed a waiver upon purchasing the gym membership that stated as such. The court also found that at no time did the personal trainer or gym contribute to her injuries with faulty gym equipment, improper teaching of lift techniques, or having her perform an exercise that was inherently dangerous or beyond her ability.

So, where could liability fall on the fitness center and owner?

Liability falls on the gym with the obvious and maybe not so obvious.

  1. Faulty and broken gym equipment. Proper maintenance, repairs, and a procedure for checking all equipment reduce your risks. Remove or tape off faulty or damaged equipment until repaired.
  2. Wet or uneven flooring. Proper signage warning about wet floors or making members aware of steps or uneven floors is critical. Slip-trip-and-fall accidents are the most common source of injuries.
  3. Improper storage of potentially dangerous objects. Lock chemicals, cleaning products, cleaning equipment, and tools in a room or cabinet.
  4. Improper advice or training. Yes, a trainer can be sued for improperly instructing a client or member on how to use equipment or weights. This is one reason it is essential that you have a standard operating procedure for client training, instruction, and documentation to which all trainers must adhere.  

How can you better protect yourself as a fitness facility and owner?

We all know accidents will happen. Especially when people are in a gym with equipment or performing new exercises or techniques they might not have performed before. While your focus is always the health and wellness of your members, peace of mind for you and your trainers should also be at the forefront. 

Having the correct insurance in place is a great way to start. But also important are non-insurance protections such as the use of waiver/release forms and risk management procedures and checklists that will help to prevent an injury from ever becoming an insurance claim.

Proper documentation for your policies and procedures is important, as well. This includes how to handle injuries: What is the process when a member gets injured? Immediate documentation following the incident, with photos if possible, can help prevent the he-said-she-said situation and may prevent litigation. To be prudent, document if a member continues using the facility following their injury. Track members with a key fob or membership card.

What is the bottom line?

The more proactive you are taking safety and wellbeing measures for everyone, the more peace of mind you can have as a gym owner.

We highly recommend that all personal trainers and fitness club owners/operators read Risks that Could Put Your Fitness Center Out of Business and Injuries at Gyms and Homes. the more peace of mind you can have as a gym owner.

Sadler offers Fitness Instructor Insurance specifically designed to meet the unique needs of personal trainers of all types, including aerobics, yoga, and pilates. We also offer several Health Club Insurance programs, one of which will meet your facility’s needs. You can get a fast quote by clicking the links above or calling 800-622-7372

* This scenario is described in an article published in the June 2021 issue of Hackney Publications Sports Facilities and the Law.

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