Injuries Caused by Fitness Equipment: How to Build a Strong Claim

When you’re hurt by gym machines or home exercise equipment, you may be able to seek compensation from the fitness equipment manufacturer.

While most people workout for years without incident, there are thousands every day who sustain serious injuries while using fitness and gym equipment.

Exercise equipment injuries can be caused by design flaws, manufacturing defects, faulty installation, and improper use.

More than 526,000 people end up in the emergency room each year with injuries caused by exercise equipment. Of those, more than 43,000 are critically or fatally injured. ¹

Fitness equipment injuries can happen at home or your local gym. Wherever you are hurt by faulty exercise equipment, you have the right to seek compensation for your losses from the equipment manufacturer.

Fitness Equipment Failures and Injuries

At home or the gym, people of all ages and fitness levels are injured every day on exercise machines. Most injuries are minor and caused by plain old over-exertion. Injuries can range from sore muscles to permanent disability, and can include:

  • Muscle and tendon sprains and strains
  • Knee injuries
  • Cuts and scrapes
  • Severe abrasions
  • Face and eye injuries
  • Head and brain injuries
  • Neck and spinal cord injuries

Treadmills are involved in a large proportion of serious fitness injuries. Treadmill belts can be misaligned or improperly tightened. Safety featured may be missing, such as an auto-stop function if the user falls. There may be gaps in the moving belts, or hanging cables that pose dangers to children in the home.

Example: Fatal Treadmill Accident

On May 26, 2009, the four-year-old daughter of former boxer Mike Tyson died from a tragic treadmill accident.

Exodus Tyson was fatally strangled when her neck was caught in a cord hanging from the treadmill console.

The investigating police officer Andy Hill stated, “Somehow, she was playing on this treadmill, and there’s a cord that hangs under the console; it’s kind of a loop,” Hill said. “Either she slipped or put her head in the loop, but it acted like a noose, and she was obviously unable to get herself off of it.”

Exercise Bikes may have missing or broken pedal straps, improperly attached seats or handlebars, or exposed gears and belts that can catch on clothing or pinch skin.

Resistance Bands are a popular at-home exercise product that can cause serious injury if the band slips, snaps, or breaks.

For example, retired Senator Harry Reid filed a faulty exercise equipment lawsuit against a resistance band manufacturer after a broken band seriously injured him. The outcome of the lawsuit has not been made public.

Weight Lifting Equipment failure can result in serious injuries if the weight racks, cables or bars are damaged, defective, or worn.

Unstable Workout Machines: Many types of machines used in home gyms and fitness centers are large and tall, such as elliptical machines, stair climbers, pulley systems, and more. Machines that are poorly designed or improperly installed can tip over, causing serious injuries.

Case Summary: Multi-million Settlement for Unstable Gym Machine

On October 24, 2004, Natalie Barnhard was working as a physical therapy assistant at Amherst Orthopedic Physical Therapy. She was leaning on a 600-pound Cybex Leg Extension Machine when it tipped over on her.

Barnhard’s neck was crushed by the falling machine, leaving her paralyzed from the neck down. Her attorneys filed suit against Cybex, the machine’s manufacturer.

Worker’s compensation laws prohibited Barnhard from suing her employer.

The jury originally awarded $66 million to Barnhard. However, on appeal by Cybex, the pain and suffering part of her award was cut by $21 million down to $12 million. The liability portion of her award was preserved.

Cybex eventually settled with Barnhard in 2012 for $19.5 million.

Building an Exercise Equipment Injury Claim

If you’ve been injured by faulty exercise equipment, you can seek compensation from the maker of the defective equipment with a product liability lawsuit.

If you bought the exercise product for home use, you might have a claim against the retail store where you purchased the defective equipment.

If you were injured by equipment in a private gym or fitness center, you might also want to file a claim against the fitness center for failing to provide safe equipment.

In a product liability case against the exercise equipment manufacturer, you’ll need to show that if it weren’t for a defect in the equipment, you wouldn’t have been injured.

A product liability claim usually involves one or more of these types of product defects:

  • Design defects are mistakes or flaws built into the equipment when it’s first manufactured, or during design modifications, like heavy machines with a high center of gravity that makes them easily tipped.
  • Manufacturing defects can occur even if the product’s design was safe, but there was a mistake made while the equipment was being made, like missing bolts or exposed wires.
  • Marketing defects (“Failure to Warn”) happen when the manufacturer doesn’t provide the user with enough information to safely install or use the equipment, like failing to warn that the equipment cannot accommodate users over a certain weight.

Your lawsuit may be against the manufacturer, the retailer, the fitness club owner, or a combination of parties. Before filing a claim or lawsuit, it helps to understand some terms used by insurance companies and lawyers.

Important Legal Terms:

Duty of Care is the legal obligation of the manufacturer to avoid causing harm to intended users of the fitness equipment.

Negligence occurs when the manufacturer sells fitness equipment that has a design or manufacturing defect or fails to tell users how to assemble and use the equipment safely.

Liability means the fitness equipment manufacturer is responsible for damages resulting from injuries caused by using the defective equipment.

Damages are the personal and financial losses incurred by the injured person. Damages from defective exercise equipment can include medical bills; out-of-pocket expenses for related medical expenses like ambulance fees, medicines, or crutches; lost wages; and pain and suffering.

To win your injury case, you must prove:

  1. The manufacturer, retailer, or gym owner breached their legal duty of care to ensure you weren’t harmed.
  2. As a direct and proximate result of that breach, you were injured.
  3. Your injuries resulted in measurable damages.

Preserving Evidence for Injury Claims

Successful injury claims are supported by good evidence. Begin collecting evidence from the moment you’re injured, as best you can.

Ask for Help: Don’t hesitate to ask someone to call the manager at a gym. You must report the injury when it happens.

If you’re badly hurt, have someone call 911. Shock and distress can mask serious injury symptoms. If the paramedics want to take you to the hospital, cooperate with them.

Never delay treatment after an injury. Don’t wait to see if you’ll feel better. If your injuries don’t require emergency care, see your doctor or go to an urgent care center as soon as possible. Tell every medical provider you see exactly when, where and how you were injured.

A delay in medical treatment can sink your claim when the other side argues that the fitness equipment didn’t cause your injuries.

Collect Medical Records: You’ll need copies of your medical bills and records to prove you were injured by the faulty exercise equipment and to establish the value of your claim.

Document Lost Wages: If you missed work, ask your employer for a letter detailing the amount of wages you’ve lost because of your injuries, including lost opportunities for overtime, bonuses, vacation and sick days.

Take Photographs: As soon as possible, take photos and video of the equipment that caused your injury. If there was blood, pulled hair, or skin on the equipment or floor, take pictures of that, too.

If you were severely injured at a gym or fitness center, your attorney could subpoena attendance records for the day you were hurt. Your attorney may also contact gym staff and patrons to ask for witness statements and check if they took any cell phone pictures or videos.

There may be photos or videos that capture the accident when it happened, paramedics working on you, and gym staff cleaning up the machine afterward.

Talk to Witnesses: Witness statements are important to injury claims. Even if you were injured at home, if you have friends or family members who saw or heard what happened, they should write it down.

If you were at a fitness center, ask other patrons to write down what they saw.

Keep a Journal: As soon as possible after your injury, start writing daily notes about the accident, how it happened, your injuries, and all treatment. Keep track of your pain levels, and how the injuries from the defective equipment have impacted your activities of daily living.

Why You Need an Attorney to Win Big Claims

If you’ve recovered from minor injuries from faulty fitness equipment, and have little or no medical bills for treatment, you probably won’t get very far with an injury claim. Your potential recovery would be very low.

Even with minor injuries, you do have the right to report faulty exercise equipment. You can also contact a personal injury attorney to discuss the value of your claim.

Dangerous home fitness equipment can be reported to the Consumer Products Safety Commission.

You should seek compensation for serious injuries caused by faulty or defective fitness equipment, but you’ll need expert legal help to get fair compensation for serious injuries.

Product liability cases tend to be complicated, high-dollar claims.

When you are going up against corporate giants like fitness equipment manufacturers and gym owners, they have an army of insurance experts and defense lawyers ready to fight against you.

Fitness Centers Require a Waiver of Liability

If you were injured by equipment in a private gym or fitness center, the first obstacle you’ll face is the release papers you undoubtedly signed when you joined the gym.

Practically every gym or fitness center won’t let you in the door until you’ve signed a “waiver of liability” meaning you give up your right to sue the gym if you get hurt. The gym will say you assumed the risk by knowing you could get hurt at the gym and working out there, anyway.

A skilled attorney can overcome those defenses, often by arguing that you could not knowingly assume a risk that the average person wouldn’t expect to happen, like defective equipment.

Beware of Contributory and Comparative Negligence

No matter where you were injured, the equipment manufacturer will almost certainly try to put the blame back on you, by arguing you used the equipment incorrectly, failed to assemble the equipment correctly, or some other excuse.

In some states, like Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, the manufacturer can use a pure contributory negligence argument to defeat your claim if they can put as little as one percent of the blame on you.

Most states use comparative fault rules that allow the right to pursue an injury claim even if you’re partially to blame for your injuries. The amount of compensation you can get is reduced according to your share of the blame.

In some comparative fault states, you may lose your right to compensation if you are equally to blame (called the 50% rule) or more to blame (called the 51% rule) for the circumstances of your injuries.

An experienced attorney can ensure you get the maximum compensation you deserve, even when you might have contributed to your injuries.

Case Summary: Weight Lifting Machine Caused Permanent Injury

Harold Leon Bostick was injured in January 2001 while doing squats on a Flex Smith machine at a Gold’s Gym. Bostick was lifting more than 300 pounds when he collapsed while doing a squat and dropped the weight-bar.

He had not lifted that much before, and did not have a “spotter.”

Because the “dead-stop” on the weight machine was set too low, the falling weight-lifting bar on the machine crushed Bostick’s spine and broke his neck, leaving him permanently paralyzed.

On Bostick’s behalf, his attorney filed a lawsuit against the fitness machine manufacturer and the gym.

The jury determined Bostick’s claim value was $16.3 million, but reduced his total award by 10 percent for comparative negligence, arriving at a final verdict of $14.4 million.

When you’ve suffered serious injuries from defective fitness equipment, you don’t have to face the corporate giants on your own. You are entitled to seek full compensation for your injuries and suffering.

Don’t settle for less. Find out what a good personal injury attorney can do for you.

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>