While most people workout for years without incident, there are thousands who sustain serious injuries while using fitness and gym equipment. Causes of injuries range from equipment design flaws, manufacturing defects, faulty installation, and improper use.
Many people injured by workout equipment file lawsuits. Most allege their injuries were caused by the negligence of the manufacturer, the retailers who sold it, or the fitness clubs who made the equipment available for use.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), fitness and gym equipment is responsible for almost nine thousand injuries each year (1). This figure includes commercial equipment found in fitness clubs, and retail equipment in many homes.
Common injuries include head and body trauma, staph and fungal infections, broken bones, and lacerations. The equipment most commonly associated with injuries includes:
- Rowing machines
- Stair machines
- Weight lifting apparatus
- Workout benches
- Elliptical machines
Common Causes of Gym Equipment Injuries
Fitness equipment can be unforgiving. Much of it is made from hard steel, fiberglass, aluminum, and other hard materials which allow little room for user error.
To help minimize waiting times, fitness club owners often squeeze pieces of equipment dangerously close to one another. As a result, members may have very little room to move around without coming in contact with other members. When this occurs, injuries can easily result.
Example: Rowing machines placed too close
Aida and other members often had to wait in line to use the rowing machine at the health club. After complaining to management about the excessive wait times, the club purchased two more rowing machines. But instead of using additional space to accommodate the new machines, management placed them next to one another in the same space.
While management calculated there was enough space between the machines and their outstretched oars, they didn’t take into account that repeated use would cause the machines to move slightly out of place.
One afternoon, while sitting on one of the rowing machines, Aida was suddenly struck in the head by the adjacent machine’s oar. The force of the blow fractured Aida’s orbital bone. She found a personal injury attorney and successfully sued the fitness club for negligence.
Fitness club equipment and showers can be used by hundreds of members each month. Handlebars on stationary bikes, grips on weight bearing pulleys, free weights, and other surfaces often contain bacteria. Shower floors can be the worst offenders.
To avoid the spread of illness, clubs must regularly disinfect common areas. When they neglect this practice, staph and fungal infections can spread quickly. Elderly members, children, and those with weakened immune systems may not be able to fight off the infections, which can result in hospitalization, or even death.
Example: Infection spread by treadmill
Joshua was 65 years old. He’d recently suffered a heart attack and had bypass surgery. During his recovery, Joshua’s doctor placed him on a program of proper nutrition and exercise. Joshua joined a local fitness club where he could use the treadmill.
After a few days of exercising, Joshua came down with a fever that got worse and worse. He went to his doctor, and was diagnosed with a staph infection. Joshua’s weakened system couldn’t handle the infection, and he died. His family found a personal injury attorney and sued the fitness club for wrongful death.
As part of pre-trial discovery, Joshua’s attorney got a court order permitting a bacteriologist to test the fitness club. High levels of infectious bacteria were found around the club, and on the bars of the treadmill used by Joshua. The court found Joshua’s death was the direct result of contracting a staph infection from the bacteria on the bars of the treadmill.
Most treadmills and stepclimbers are built to withstand weights up to 350 pounds. They will continue running unless manually shut off. Some machines have a kill button, which automatically shuts the machine off when a user falls. Other machines do not.
These machines can weigh 300-400 pounds, and are unforgiving if a user falls. When treadmills and stepclimbers aren’t designed properly, or the kill switch isn’t functioning, users can be seriously injured. There are many instances of users falling off treadmills and fracturing bones.
Example: Poorly designed stair climber
Celeste and her husband wanted to get back in shape. They went to a local fitness and gym equipment retail store where they purchased a stair step machine. The machine had a power switch located 24 inches from its base. One day, their 3-year-old daughter wandered close to the machine.
The child climbed up on the machine and flipped the power switch. As she lowered herself, she fell underneath the steps. When one of the pedals went down, it crushed the young girl’s right arm, breaking it in several places.
Celeste and her husband filed a product liability suit against the stair step manufacturer and the retailer who sold them the machine. The court found the machine had a design defect. The switch shouldn’t have been so low, allowing it to be easily turned on by a 3-year-old.
Home gym equipment comes with installation and operation manuals. It’s the purchaser’s responsibility to install and use the equipment properly. When the instructions aren’t clear or users don’t follow them, serious injury can result.
When a private individual fails to properly install a fitness machine and is injured, the manufacturer and retailer can only be held liable if the instructions were improperly written.
Example: Poor translation
Bob purchased a new treadmill for his home that required assembly. While assembling the treadmill, he had difficulty understanding the instructions. The grammar was often incorrect and some of the steps seemed confusing. Bob followed the instructions as best he could.
After assembling the treadmill, Bob got on it to try it out. It stopped suddenly, knocking Bob down onto the base. When he fell he cut his leg on an exposed piece of metal, which had come loose from the underbelly of the track.
Bob found an attorney and sued the manufacturer and retailer, alleging the installation guide was improperly written and confusing. He alleged his injuries were directly caused by the faulty installation guide.
During pretrial discovery, Bob’s attorney learned the treadmill was manufactured in China, and the instructions were originally written in Mandarin. A Chinese worker who spoke English translated the guides. The court found the translations confusing and incomprehensible, and ruled in Bob’s favor.
What if you’ve been injured by fitness equipment?
If you’ve been injured by fitness or gym equipment, you may have the basis of a negligence lawsuit. Depending on whether the equipment was in a fitness club or your home, your lawsuit may be against the manufacturer, the retailer, the fitness club owner, or a combination of parties.
To win your personal injury case, you must prove the following:
- The manufacturer, retailer, or fitness club owner breached their legal duty of care to ensure you weren’t harmed.
- As a direct and proximate result of that breach, you were injured.
- Your injuries resulted in damages, including medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, or any combination of these.
If your injuries were caused by you improperly using the fitness equipment, or if you incorrectly installed the equipment, you may not have the basis of an injury claim.
For example, if while using a treadmill you were on your cell phone and lost your balance, you may have contributed to your own injury. As a result, you won’t be able to meet the necessary burden of proof.
The same applies if you don’t follow the instructions for proper use. For example, if a fitness club had a sign clearly posted saying users of the heavy bag must wear padded gloves, and you punched the bag with your bare hands, you may not have a claim if you broke your wrist while hitting the bag.
The Role of Attorneys
If your injuries are relatively minor, such as sprains and strains, muscle pulls, or minor cuts and abrasions, you may be able to file your own injury claim. If your injuries are more serious, such as broken bones, head trauma, or amputations, you will need the counsel of an experienced attorney.
In serious injury cases, you may have to file a lawsuit to get fair compensation. If so, you’ll need a personal injury attorney with the legal expertise needed to navigate the trial process. You can find a local attorney to give you a free case review here .