We’ve all been there: a wrong movement at the gym causes instant regret and persistent pain for a few days. Minor injuries often clear up on their own, while more serious ones require medical care and time away from working out. But what happens when something goes very wrong at the gym, and you get seriously hurt?
Fitness centers and their management owe a “duty of care” to both patrons and employees. In other words, the people responsible are expected to maintain a safe gym environment. That means checking the facility and equipment for problems and defects, removing hazards, and hiring and properly training employees to avoid injuries.
Below, we take a look at some of the dangers that gym owners must prevent and what can happen if they fail to do so.
Three Major Dangers Gyms Must Work to Avoid
Without appropriate due care, there are three main types of dangers that can put members and employees at risk of injury: hazards within the facility, defective or broken equipment, and trainer negligence. Any of these issues can lead someone to get seriously hurt.
Gyms must prevent hazards both inside and around the building. These hazards include problems like the following:
- Wet or slick floors from mopping
- Broken stairs or hand railings
- Items left on the floor, such as fitness gear, equipment, or trash
- Poor pool conditions
Gym owners and management must also pay attention to conditions outside and take any precautions necessary to keep people safe when they’re coming and going. That means maintaining walkways, parking lots, and railings and fixing any hazards as soon as possible.
Most facility hazards can lead to slips, trips, and falls. They may sound like trivial incidents – albeit embarrassing – but the truth is, falls can cause serious injuries like traumatic brain injuries, broken bones, back and neck injuries, sprains and strains, and more.
Defective or Broken Equipment
Fitness centers have lots of big, extremely heavy equipment. Many parts can become worn from use over time. Facility owners and staff must carefully monitor equipment use and frequently check everything for defects, broken parts, and wear and tear. They must also ensure equipment and televisions are properly secured to keep them from falling on someone.
It’s critical that fitness trainers know the ins and outs of monitoring members and helping work out properly. Without the right education and training, they can make the following grave mistakes:
- Directing someone to incorrectly use equipment,
- Choosing too much weight to train someone,
- Handling or spotting a trainee incorrectly, and more.
Making an error as a trainer can allow a gym member to suffer a variety of severe and permanent injuries.
Liability Waivers in Gym Contracts
You would think that if a gym fails to maintain safe premises that you can sue them or file a claim to hold them accountable. However, fitness facilities often require new members to sign agreements that contain “waiver of liability” language, which helps them avoid responsibility for injuries that may occur. Members are usually asked to sign these documents on electronic pads, which aren’t very easy to review. But when people get hurt in the gym, the courts will enforce those waivers and prevent injured members from pursing claims.
These rules vary from state to state, so before starting a fitness membership, be sure to know your rights in your individual state regarding gym liability. Then, to help protect your rights when joining, ask to see the contracts the company is asking you to sign, and read through each one. Before signing anything, cross out and initial all clauses that limit liability. Ask for a paper copy to do this if you need one. If you happen to get seriously hurt down the road because of a gym’s negligence, taking this extra step could mean the difference between getting financial coverage for your medical bills and having NO recourse against the gym.
What to Do if You Get Hurt at the Gym
It may sound like overkill, but it’s important to seek medical attention right away if you sustain any injury at a fitness center. What may seem like a minor injury at first could develop into a debilitating problem in a few days. In addition, especially in cases when a gym hazard caused your injury, having an official medical record immediately after the incident will be a critical document if you decide to file a claim.
If there were any witnesses to the incident, ask for their contact information. If you’re too injured to ask them yourself, request that someone else get this information on your behalf. The gym (or the larger company that owns the facility) will likely try to fight you tooth and nail from filing a claim if you get hurt. So, having witnesses who can explain what they saw can help you hold the gym accountable.
The Purpose of Filing a Gym Injury Claim
You may be thinking, I’m not interested in a money grab. It’s just not me to sue for something like this. However, there are some misconceptions about what it means to take legal action for injuries that happened at the gym. First, filing a “claim” is not the same thing as filing a “lawsuit.” When you file a claim, your attorney will work to seek compensation on your behalf from the gym’s insurance company first. The gym owner pays insurance premiums every month to cover this very issue. That way, when someone gets hurt, the victim can obtain much deserved money as restitution for medical bills, lost wages from being out of work, pain and suffering, and other losses that occurred because of this unexpected injury.
Sometimes, a facility will fight back against that claim and try to put the blame on the victim to avoid taking responsibility. If the gym refuses to agree to provide the victim with a fair settlement for the harm that happened, the victim’s attorney will likely suggest the next step, which is to file a lawsuit to seek compensation. Even at that point, there is still a chance that your case will settle. If not, your attorney can take it to trial before a judge and jury, who will then review the facts of the case and decide whether the gym was at fault, and if it is, how much money is a fair amount with which to compensate you. After putting all the facts on the table, the jury sometimes will find that the plaintiff (meaning the victim) deserves even more than the original amount he or she asked for.
It may sound like an overwhelming experience but remember that your lawyer will have your back through the entire process. He or she will pursue your case and keep you informed while you focus on getting well again.
What Your Attorney Must Prove in a Lawsuit
With any injury case, an attorney must prove a few things are true in order to win. First, that the defendant (in this case, the gym) owed a “duty of care” to protect people from foreseeable harm. Second, that the victim suffered an injury. Third, that the gym’s failure to uphold its duty of care led to the victim’s injury and financial losses. Your medical records, as well as evidence, witnesses, and other details, will allow your attorney to show how those three facts are true.
Time Limits to Filing a Claim for Your Injury
Each state limits the time a person has to file a legal claim after they have been injured by someone else’s negligence. Once that time has passed, the victim is forever barred from seeking compensation for their medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Called a statute of limitations, states typically have set the limit at one, two, or three years from the date the injury happened. Some have a “discovery rule,” which means that the clock does not start ticking until the victim realized (or should have realized) that their injury resulted from negligence. The time to file is often different for minors. Taking action right away – even if you’re confused about what happened – is a critical step in protecting yourself from losing your right to seek compensation.
Prompt action is also beneficial for another reason. In addition to complying with the statute of limitations in your state, evidence disappears with time. Witnesses become unavailable or start to forget what happened. While the moment is still fresh, having an attorney investigate the incident can help ensure you’re able to prove that the harm you’ve suffered resulted from the gym’s negligent behavior.
No matter what happened, it’s a tall order to successfully bring a claim against a gym for compensation. When something goes wrong at the gym and you’re suffering with injuries, the smartest thing you can do is hire an experienced personal injury attorney to advocate for you. Many offer free consultations to discuss what happened and explain your legal rights. Then, if you decide to move forward with a claim, your attorney can handle the technicalities of seeking compensation, while you focus on recovering.