‘Tis the season for getting healthy – even when most workouts are now online classes or at-home workouts. Just because more fitness is happening at home doesn’t mean there still can’t be issues.
Liability risks can happen in your local gym or while working out at home. Watch out for these common instances and schedule a free consultation with a local attorney if you aren’t sure how serious your situation is.
Lawsuits Over Exercise Equipment
At The Gym
Gyms are responsible for keeping their machines in proper working condition. If a machine malfunctions and you get injured, you may have a personal injury claim. In some cases, though, a gym liability waiver may mean you can’t sue them.
Some companies, like Peloton, force you to use their installation and delivery services that are provided within the cost of the bike. If someone else installs your home equipment and something goes wrong, you may have a claim against the fitness company or installation company.
Note: This is different from a company-wide product recall, which Peloton had in 2020.
If you installed a treadmill or other machine yourself, you may still have some coverage for things like fires, motor issues, or serious injuries that are not due to installation. It is always best to review your manual and warranty and ask an attorney if they think the situation is suspicious.
Keep yourself safe both at home and at the gym. Common exercise equipment issues that lead to injury are:
- Placing equipment too close to walls or other objects
- Lack of proper maintenance (for example, treadmills need lubrication oil on the moving belt after every 90 hours of use)
- Not replacing parts or broken pieces
- Not replacing items with typical wear and tear
- Not getting regular inspections of gym or home equipment
- Plugging equipment into electrical circuits that are not grounded
- Not knowing your individual limits per workout
Know Your Exercise Equipment Regulations
It is not just large machines that have regulations. There are FDA laws if the equipment is for a medical reason. But the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has standards for:
- Yoga mats and accessories
- Foam rollers
- Weights and dumbbells
- Weight sets
- Children’s exercise machines or equipment
- Wrestling mats
Equipment manufactured in another country may not follow these standards. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires that products show their country of origin on the label. Before you purchase something created in another country, you should look for testing and product safety evaluations.
Note: California follows Prop 65 regulations. Products must have a warning label about heavy metal and chemical hazards such as mercury, cadmium, BPA, nickel, and lead. These are common in metal machine coatings, foam rollers, and weight coverings.
Quitting Gyms Due to COVID or Health Issues
Gyms typically run on contracts. Hopefully, you read the contract carefully before signing so you fully understand the cancellation policy. Many gyms have changed their policies around the pandemic or state ordinances, so you should review the updated policies.
Some gyms enforce signing up for a year, paying a large cancellation fee, or giving them 30-90 days’ notice. Some require a doctor’s note. And the worst of all cases: there are gyms that can leave your early cancellation up to the discretion of the local branch owner.
However, if you were not told about these policies, you did not sign the contract, or the company or staff is not following the contract, you may have options in small claims court.
If a comment or action just feels wrong to you, then simply asking an attorney about it (at a free consultation) can help you understand if you have a case.
Appropriate Exercise Recommendations
Doctors and fitness trainers will try to advise you to the best of their knowledge and understanding of your needs. It is your responsibility to explain your health concerns to them and remind a trainer of what you can and can’t do.
However, there are some common-sense standards that gyms must follow under their state’s health club licensing laws (for example, see New York’s laws here), including:
- Accommodations and fair treatment for people with disabilities
- All clients should receive proper instruction on how machines work (if you just walk into a gym without a tour or asking for instruction, you may be voiding a later injury claim)
You should raise questions if you see a trainer or gym is not following typical guidelines such as:
- Young children unattended around equipment or weights
- Injured or elderly clients doing harmful exercises
- Minors using equipment without a parent at the gym (typically kids can use the gym floor or weight area alone after age 16)
Let’s say a group of unattended minors is goofing off with weights. A heavy weight gets flung in the air and hits you in the back of the head. Now you have a serious case on your hands that involves the gym and the parents of the kids. The gym may have some liability for the kids not being supervised, and the parents will likely have a personal injury lawsuit to settle with you.
If you feel you need extra guidance for workouts (such as coming back from a serious injury or illness), a physical therapist may be a safer option than a trainer. They can give extensive instructions for exercises or equipment and typically closely watch your entire session. Many offices have treadmills, ellipticals, bikes, and other common gym equipment. You will sign a different liability waiver to work with a physical therapist than you would at a gym.
Contracts, Manuals, and Records
It can save you a headache in the long run if you save the paperwork such as:
- Gym or trainer contracts
- Receipts or bills of sale
- Manuals for assembly and maintenance
- Warranty information
- Doctor’s notes or medical records for relevant injuries
Much of this can be stored online for easy access. Faulty equipment or injuries fall under a statute of limitations, meaning you typically have three years to file a lawsuit if something goes wrong. The specific timeframe depends on your state’s laws.
If an injury happens at home or the gym you should immediately:
- Secure the equipment (folding treadmills have straps to stop their folding device, remove the “key” that allows some machines to run, etc.)
- Stop all use
- Take photos of the equipment and issue
- Take photos of your injury
- Notify the gym or equipment brand about the issue
- Inspect the machine or call an inspector from the company
- See a doctor and keep records of the injury
- Notify your insurance company
- Call an attorney if you want to pursue a lawsuit
These steps are important to show you took the correct safety and resolution steps and have clear evidence.
Personal injury lawsuits involve both sides trying to show the other party did something wrong, so take caution. But if you feel an injury or issue in your fitness journey was not your fault, it is worth a free call to an attorney to talk it through.