DANGERS OF SEEKING PHYSICAL PERFECTION
In our eagerness to be physically fit, we sometimes push
ourselves a bit harder than we should or expose ourselves to dangerous
In a recent California case, a male plaintiff decided to work out
at a gym with a personal trainer. Prior
to seeking to enhance his physical fitness, he had not been exercising or
working out, was approximately 5'10" tall, and weighed 228 pounds.
The trainer was apparently shopping in the plaintiff’s furniture
store when a conversation ensued. The
plaintiff indicated that he wanted to look like the trainer “buff and
physically fit.” After a brief
discussion, the trainer agreed to provided physical fitness to the plaintiff at
Gold’s Gym. Plaintiff suffered a heart
attack at the end of his first 60-minute training session.
Did the plaintiff assume the risk of this result?
The court noted that the doctrine of assumption of the risk is
not limited, for example, to suffering a football injury while playing football
“but applies to any physical activity that involves an element of risk or
danger as an integral part of the activity.”
Fitness training under the guidance of a personal trainer was
considered by the court to be such an activity.
As the court notes,
on the cardiovascular system as a result of the physical exertion that is an
integral part of fitness training for the personal trainer is a risk inherent
in the activity. Eliminating that risk
would alter the fundamental nature of the activity.”
The court decision notes that at the time of the initial workout
session, the trainer put the plaintiff through a workout that started with 12
to 13 minutes on a level treadmill at a pace of three to four miles per
hour. He then had plaintiff sit on an
incline bench and lift weights over his head.
The plaintiff performed 10 repetitions with 30 pound weights followed by
10 more repetitions with slightly heavier weights. When the plaintiff asked for a break, the
trainer said “Later,” and had the plaintiff do an additional 10 push-ups. When the plaintiff again asked for a break,
after telling the trainer that he was really tired and out of breath, the
trainer said, “First give me 10 sit-ups.”
After the plaintiff completed the sit-ups, the trainer instructed
him to return to the incline bench and repeat the earlier weight exercise but
with heavier weights and at a faster tempo.
The trainer next had the plaintiff lie down on a mat and lift
both legs simultaneously. Plaintiff
performed one leg lift and stopped. The
trainer grabbed the plaintiff’s legs and pushed them toward the plaintiff’s
head 10 to 12 times. Toward the end of
this exercise, the plaintiff experienced chest pain but did not immediately
tell his trainer. Instead, he simply
indicated that he was out of breath, couldn’t breathe, and needed some water.
After pouring water over his head, plaintiff laid down on the
floor while he experienced extreme pain.
After about five minutes, plaintiff said “call 911, I think I’m having a
After surviving the heart attack, plaintiff next sought the
advice of an attorney, and this litigation was commenced.
The essence of plaintiff’s claim was that the personal fitness
trainer challenged him to perform beyond his level of physical ability and
The court notes, however,
challenge, however, is the very purpose of fitness training, and is precisely
the reason one would pay for the services of a personal trainer.
Like the coach in other sports and physical
activities, the personal trainer’s role in physical fitness training is not
only to instruct the participant in proper exercise techniques but also to
develop a training program that requires the participant to stretch his or her
current abilities in order to become more physically fit.
The trainer’s function in that training
process is, at bottom, to urge and challenge the participant to work muscles to
their limits and to overcome physical and psychological barriers to doing
Inherent in that process is the risk
that the trainer will not accurately access the participant’s ability and the
participant will be injured as a result.”
court thus concluded that in order to recover against the trainer, plaintiff
would have to demonstrate that the trainer “acted either with intent to cause
injury or that the trainer acted recklessly in that the conduct was ‘totally
outside the range of ordinary activity” involved in personal fitness training.
In another recent California decision, the Woodland Hills,
California, a health club branch of L.A. Fitness encountered a lawsuit as a
result of an individual slipping and falling on a pool deck. The day following the injury, he returned to
the club and discovered an accumulation of algae on the drain on the pool deck,
in the area where he fell.
The plaintiff sued L.A. Fitness alleging negligence.
L.A. Fitness sought to have the claim barred as a result of the
plaintiff’s execution of a release and waiver signed under a membership
agreement. [Reading the fine print is important in reviewing health club
membership applications as well as coin laundry leases!]
Plaintiff, however, noted that the California Health and Safety
Code provides “every person operating or maintaining a public swimming pool
must do so in a sanitary, healthful and safe manner.”
The trial court determined that the release and waiver of
liability in the membership agreement was effective to bar the plaintiff’s
claim; however, the appellate court determined that in view of the statutory
violation, the waiver and release clause was invalid.
The moral of the story?
Don’t walk into a furniture store expecting to find anything other than
[This column is intended to provide general information only and
is not intended to provide specific legal advice; if you have a
specific question regarding the law, you should contact an
attorney of your choice. Suggestions for topics to be discussed
in this column are welcome.]
Reprinted from The Journal
Myles M. Mattenson © 2006