No pain, no gain as the saying goes… but what do you stand to gain if you suffer real injury while at the gym? Usually, you trust that your gym and its array of trained professionals will keep you safe while you pursue your fitness goals. However, a recent rash of personal training accidents and injuries puts that trust into question.
Gym Death North of Brisbane
Late last month, a fifteen year-old boy suffered a serious injury in a gym which later resulted in his death. The teenager, Ben Shaw, was discovered trapped under a 98kg bar. When Shaw was finally spotted, his discoverer cried out for help and immediately removed the bar from the boy’s neck. Two others performed CPR on Shaw until the medics arrived.
Frighteningly, doctors later determined that Shaw had been underneath the weight for up to half-an-hour. Though on life support for a while, his family eventually made the heartbreaking decision to turn it off.
The gym in question had a rule stating that children younger than 16 were not allowed to use weight lifting equipment without supervision. The gym also stated that members used the equipment at their own risk. However, it is clear that, not only should the 15 year-old have been supervised, but staff were inattentive to the point of potential negligence as a member had lain incapacitated for up to thirty minutes.
Tort Law: Negligence
A Tort is a civil wrong and individuals generally bring tort claims to right a wrong or correct conduct. Negligence is one of the most common Torts in Australian law. Negligence itself is “a failure to take reasonable care to avoid causing injury to another person.” In proving negligence, four steps must be proven by the plaintiff.
- That a duty of care existed in the attendant circumstances;
- That the defendant/respondent violated their duty of care through either inaction or incorrect action;
- That the plaintiff’s injury or loss would have been foreseen by a reasonable person in the same circumstances, and;
- That the injury or loss suffered by the plaintiff was caused by the defendant’s breach of duty.
In general regards to a gym, the law requires that a gym provides their members with services that are rendered with due care and skill and are fit for their purpose. However, when a personal trainer is involved, they too owe a client a duty of care.
Personal Trainers & Liability
A case from central Queensland in 2014 demonstrates how an injured client can file a claim against both the gym and his personal trainer in the case of serious injury.
Daniel Popp, a 30 year-old father of five, went to one personal training session at Snap Fitness, one of Australia’s most popular gym chains, and later ended up in the emergency room. The diagnosis? Rhabdomyolysis: “the rapid breakdown of seriously injured muscle tissue severe enough to threaten the kidneys.” Though usually present in illicit drug users, car crash victims, and marathon runners the doctors attributed Popp’s condition to excessive exercise. Popp filed negligence claims against both Snap Fitness and the personal trainer.
Though many gyms employ Personal Trainers as contractors as a way to reduce vicarious liability, injured clients still have a right to hold both parties accountable.
If You Have Suffered a Gym Injury
Know What You’ve Signed: When you join a gym, you are required to sign a liability waiver. Though courts are not required to uphold liability waivers, you cannot know the strength of your claim until a lawyer reviews what you have signed. A liability waiver which is overbroad or unduly unfair in favor of the gym will be deemed unconscionable by the court, but it is necessary to have a lawyer look it over so they can advise you on your likelihood of success.
Injury with Personal Trainer: In general, it is acknowledged that clients are owed a duty of care by their personal trainers to take reasonable precautions ensuring that the exercise regime they have designed will not cause the client harm. To succeed in a claim against a personal trainer you must:
- Prove they have breached the duty of care that they owe you by failing to take the necessary precautions to prevent injury, and
- Prove that the injured you suffered was caused by their breach (or breaches) of duty.
Because many personal trainers are hired by gyms as ‘contractors,’ it is important to ask a lawyer what your best options are moving forward; whether you’d have a case against the personal trainer, the gym, or both.
Injury at 24hr Gym: Broadly speaking, your ability to recover from a 24hr gym depends on how you were injured. Though staffed in a regular way during business hours, there will probably be a skeleton crew working in the wee hours. Generally, improper use of equipment will be your own fault, but in the case of faulty equipment you may have a case against the gym.
Work Hard & Be Smart
If you sustain an injury in the gym, be smart and seek legal help. You go to the gym to protect and cultivate your health, trusting that the staff will help you do just that. A lawyer can review your gym policy, advise about potential claims, and help you seek justice in the event that your trust is misplaced.