Who’s liable when you’re injured while working out?
You’re using a seated row machine at a gym in Santa Monica, California, when the cable snaps and you strain your back.
Now you have questions, like:
- Is the gym liable for my medical bills?
- What about the manufacturer of the seated row machine?
- What if the person standing next to me was injured? Could I be held liable?
There are well over 4,000 gyms in California. And while health professionals agree that exercise is good for you, accidents do happen.
In this article, we’ll take a look at California gym accidents and the premises liability lawsuits that may follow.
Common gym accidents and injuries
There are 2 main types of gym accidents:
- Equipment accidents. Equipment accidents are accidents that happen as a result of some issue with the workout equipment. The accident might happen because the equipment is defective or because something was done to the equipment to make it dangerous. For example, a fellow gym goer may have accidentally spilled water on a treadmill, causing the machine to short out.
- Non-equipment accidents. These are accidents that would have happened regardless of the equipment being used. The most common example of a non-equipment accident is when someone who has never (or rarely) worked out, suddenly overexerts themselves.
What are the most dangerous types of workout equipment?
A study based on 2016 data reported to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System found that certain fitness devices are more likely to send people to the hospital than others.
These devices include:
- Treadmills (35.6% of emergency room visits)
- General exercise machines (11% of emergency room visits)
- Stationary bikes (9.8% of emergency room visits)
- Jump ropes (7.9% of emergency room visits)
- Ellipticals (7.8% of emergency room visits)
- Pull-up bars (6.7% of emergency room visits)
- Medicine balls (6.2% of emergency room visits)
- Free weights (4.0% of emergency room visits)
- Box jumps (3.2% of emergency room visits)
- Yoga mats (2.3% of emergency room visits)
Regardless of what causes the accident, there are certain injuries that occur frequently in gyms and health clubs around the country. According to Men’s Journal, the most common gym injuries are:
- Foot and ankle injuries
- Knee injuries
- Lower back injuries
- Shoulder injuries
- Neck injuries
Who’s liable for a gym injury?
Let’s say you went to the gym to get in shape and ended up getting injured.
Are you stuck with the medical bills—or is there someone else who might be responsible?
In order to recover damages through a personal injury lawsuit, you generally need to convince the court that someone else was negligent. That is, someone else was careless and their carelessness caused the accident that resulted in your injury.
There are a number of individuals and parties that could potentially be held liable for a gym accident. These parties include:
- Gym owners. Premises liability law dictates that gym owners can be held liable for injuries if they fail to use reasonable care to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition. As a result, you may recover damages from a gym owner following a gym accident if you can prove that:
- There was a dangerous condition or potentially dangerous condition on the premises (such as broken workout equipment or a slippery floor),
- The owner was or should have been aware of the dangerous condition,
- The owner failed to take reasonable action to remedy the dangerous condition (for example, fixing the broken equipment or putting up a warning sign), and
- The dangerous condition caused your injury.
- Manufacturers. Manufacturers of gym equipment are responsible for designing reasonably safe equipment. If a piece of equipment is defective and you were injured as a result, then you can sue the manufacturer by filing a type of personal injury lawsuit called a product liability lawsuit.
- Other gym members. Other gym members have a duty to use reasonable care not to injure others. If a gym member intentionally or carelessly injures you at the gym, they may be liable for your injuries. Though this is rare, it does happen. For example, an individual may carelessly “throw down” a free weight after they’re done using it and the weight may roll across the floor and injure your ankle.
Will a liability waiver prevent you from suing the gym?
Most gyms require their members to sign a contract when they join (or even when they use a free trial pass). These contracts almost always include a liability waiver (language that seeks to reduce the gym’s liability if you’re injured while at the gym).
Injured gym members often believe that signing such a contract means they can’t sue the gym if they’re injured. However, this isn’t always the case. There are a number of instances in which you may still be able to sue the gym even after signing a liability waiver.
Here are a few examples of when you might be able to sue a gym or fitness facility for your injury:
- You didn’t receive a copy of the liability waiver. Under California law, a membership contract with a liability waiver is invalid if a copy isn’t provided to the gym member at the time the contract is signed.
- Gross negligence caused the accident. While liability waivers may limit liability when it comes to negligent acts, gross negligence can’t be waived. Gross negligence occurs when there’s an “extreme departure” from what a reasonable person would do in the same situation.
- The gym violated a statute or regulation. If the gym violated a statute or a regulation, and that violation caused your accident, liability will not be waived under California law.
- The liability waiver is vague. A liability waiver that is vague or otherwise unclear is not enforceable.
Even if your situation isn’t described above, you may still be able to successfully sue your gym. Consider reaching out to an experienced California personal injury attorney to explore your options.
Damages available in a gym accident case
If liability is proven in your case, compensation may be awarded for the following:
- Past and future medical care
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Punitive damages (in rare cases)
Think you might have a solid gym accident case? Use our free online directory to locate an attorney in your area. Remember, most initial consultations are free.
Need help preparing for your meeting? We’re here for you; take a look at our article on preparing for your first meeting with an attorney.