Lawsuits for Fitness Center Injuries in California

Fitness center injuries are typically caused by negligent

  • trainers,
  • gym owners,
  • third party contractors responsible for inspection and maintenance of the equipment, and/or
  • other gym members.

Under personal injury law, anyone injured in a fitness center accident can file a personal injury lawsuit against those responsible. Gym members may also be able to file a product defect lawsuit  against an equipment manufacturer for injuries suffered by using faulty equipment.

Below, our California personal injury lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions about fitness center accident lawsuits:

If you have further questions after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

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When someone is injured in a fitness center in California, they may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit for damages.

1. Can I file a lawsuit if I was injured in a fitness center accident?

Injured victims can often recover money damages for injuries suffered at a gym or fitness center. You can sue for compensation for your injuries by way of filing a personal injury lawsuit. If you are injured in a gym-related accident in, you may be able to recover damages for:

After a fitness center injury accident, you may not know the cause of the accident or who was responsible. There may be multiple causes that contributed to the accident that may not be clear at the time. It may require an investigation to determine who was responsible so that the injured victim can get compensation.

Common causes of gym injuries include:

Under California's negligence laws, a negligent party is liable for any injuries caused to another. In a fitness center accident, a negligent owner or trainer could be liable to the injured patron for any injuries suffered.

To recover damages after an injury accident, the victim generally needs to show the defendant was negligent. The elements for negligence include:

  1. The defendant owed the victim a duty of care;
  2. The defendant breached that duty of care through negligence; and
  3. The defendant's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the victim's injuries or death.1

If you were injured in a fitness center, you should consider talking to a personal injury lawyer before you talk to the insurance company or the gym owners. Let your lawyer deal with the insurance company to make sure you are fully compensated for your injuries.

2. What should I do after a gym injury?

After a gym injury, you should first seek medical attention. Even if you are not sure if you need medical treatment, you should consider getting evaluated by your doctor.

Many gym injuries involve trauma to the

  • neck,
  • spine,
  • back, or
  • head.

These injuries can be difficult to diagnose. You may not feel serious pain after the injury and think nothing is wrong. Some people are also tempted to “tough it out” or “walk it off.” But you should not take a chance with serious head, neck, or back injuries that could cause long-term problems.

After a gym injury, you may want to get contact information from anyone who may have seen the accident. If there was an equipment malfunction, you may want to ask the gym to keep the faulty equipment so it can be checked out by an expert. It may also be a good idea to take photos of the area around the accident, including any obstacles or conditions that may have contributed to your injury.

3. Who is to blame after a fitness center injury?

After a fitness center injury, anyone who was responsible for partially causing the injury may be to blame for damages. This could include someone who directly caused the injury or anyone who did not follow the proper safety procedures. Parties who may be to blame after a gym injury accident may include:

  • Property owners
  • Gym owners
  • Trainers
  • Fitness center employees
  • Other gym members
  • Equipment manufacturers
  • Third-parties who inspect and maintain the equipment

3.1. Is the gym owner liable for my injuries?

Property owners have a duty to customers and other visitors to the gym. Under California's premises liability laws, the owner or occupier is required to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition, including repairing any known hazardous conditions or warning visitors about hazardous conditions.

The fitness center owner/operator has a duty exercise reasonable care to:

  • Maintain the property;
  • Inspect the property
  • Repair any potentially dangerous conditions; and
  • Give proper warning of any dangerous conditions.2

If the injury was caused by a dangerous condition on the property, such as a slippery area or torn gym mat, the property owner may be liable for any injury caused by a slip and fall.

Example: Aaron is a member of the Long Beach Shoreline Fitness Center. A lot of the gym equipment is worn and should be replaced. The gym mats on the floor are torn and a number of members have complained that they tripped over the torn mats.

Aaron was doing cardio on the stair machine before moving on to free weights. While walking over to the free weights, Aaron tripped over the torn gym mats, and fell onto the weights rack, hitting his head and suffering a concussion.

Aaron may have a claim against the gym for failing the keep the property in a safe condition. The gym was aware of the danger and failed to warn members of the hazard and failed to fix the torn mats. Aaron may be able to sue the gym for damages caused by the injury.

Even if the gym is owned or operated by the city or county, the city or county may be liable for any injuries suffered by members. If the injury occurred on city-owned property, like a recreation center, the city could be liable for damages if:

  1. The city-owned or controlled the property;
  2. The property was in a dangerous condition at the time of the accident;
  3. The dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury that occurred;
  4. The city had notice of the dangerous condition for a long enough time to have protected against it;
  5. The plaintiff was harmed; and
  6. The dangerous condition was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's harm.3

3.2. Is my trainer responsible for my injuries?

Your trainer or instructor may also be responsible for your gym injury if he or she was negligent or reckless in causing the accident. If a trainer tells you to do something that a reasonable trainer would not suggest, the trainer may be liable for any injuries caused. The reasonableness of the trainer would be a question for the jury, based on what other trainers would do or not do in a similar situation.

Example: Paul signed up for a personal trainer session with Marcus at his local gym. Marcus does not have any formal training but considers himself pretty fit and thinks he can help others get fit.

Marcus wants to show Paul how strong he is and tells Paul to lift a weight that is too heavy based on his limited fitness. Marcus tells Paul to lift with all his might. Paul tries to lift the weight and sprains a muscle in his back.

Paul may have a claim against Marcus for negligence. Telling Paul to lift a dangerously heavy weight may have been something other trainers would never suggest because it is dangerous. If Marcus was found to be negligent, Paul may have a claim against Marcus for his damages.

3.3. What happens if a gym employee caused the accident?

A fitness center may also be liable for the negligence of their employees. Many gym accidents are caused by:

  • Lack of proper supervision,
  • Negligent hiring,
  • Lack of proper training,
  • Intentional wrongful acts by gym employees, or
  • Understaffing.

Under California's “Respondeat Superior” laws, an employer can be held vicariously liable for the negligent hiring, supervison or retention of its employees. When an employee is negligent in causing or failing to prevent an accident, the employer may be held liable for the accident.4

3.4. What if another gym member caused my fitness center injury?

Some gym injuries are caused by other gym members. When another gym member is reckless, careless, or not using equipment safely, he or she could be putting others at risk of injury. This could include not wiping up water puddles, not properly stacking weights, or swinging wildly around other people.

To recover damages from another gym member after an injury accident, the victim would need to demonstrate the other member was negligent by showing:

  1. The other gym member owed the victim a duty of care;
  2. The other gym member breached that duty of care through negligence or failure to warn; and
  3. The other gym member's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the victim's injuries.

Example: Everyone at the gym is annoyed by the activities of Loud Mike. Loud Mike listens to his music too loud on his headphones. Loud Mike yells at other people, does not like to share equipment, and never wipes his sweat off of gym equipment.

Bobby is lifting weights when Loud Mike steps in front of him and begins doing dumbbell raises. Loud Mike is busy looking at himself in the mirror and swings his arms too high, hitting Bobby in the arm. Bobby drops his weights on his own foot, breaking his toes.

If Bobby files a lawsuit against Loud Mike, Bobby may be able to claim damages for his injuries. Loud Mike owed the other gym members a duty of care and he breached that duty by not leaving enough room when doing free weights. Loud Mike's negligence was a substantial factor in causing Bobby's injuries and he may be liable for the damages caused.

4. What are my damages in a fitness center injury lawsuit?

The damages available in a fitness center injury lawsuit depend on the seriousness of the accident. Damages generally include any financial loss or harm that resulted from the accident, as well as non-economic damages. In most personal injury lawsuits, the injured victim can sue for compensatory damages, including:

  • Medical bills,
  • Hospital bills,
  • Physical or occupational therapy,
  • Prescriptions,
  • Medical supplies,
  • Lost wages,
  • Lost earning capacity,
  • Loss of consortium,
  • Disfigurement and scarring, and
  • Pain and suffering.

5. Can I file a claim if my spouse was killed in a gym injury?

Under California's wrongful death law and survivor cause of action law, a spouse or domestic partner can recover damages when a loved one has died because of the wrongful conduct of another. If your spouse, partner, or child was killed in a gym-related accident, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim for damages.5

Certain family members can file a wrongful death claim, including:

  • A surviving spouse;
  • A surviving domestic partner;
  • Any children;
  • Any grandchildren (if the individual's children are deceased); or
  • Anyone else who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by California intestate succession laws.

The damages available in a wrongful death lawsuit include:

  • Burial expenses;
  • Funeral expenses;
  • Lost financial earnings the victim would have earned if he or she had survived; and
  • Compensation for the loss of companionship, affection, and support.

6. What should I do if the gym says I can't sue them? What are their defenses?

A gym may claim you cannot file a lawsuit for damages because they do not want to pay for your injuries or they do not want to file an insurance claim. However, even if they gym says they are not liable, you may still be able to file a claim for damages. Talk to your attorney about whether you have a claim and if the gym owner may have a defense to your lawsuit.

There are many defenses available to someone who is sued for damages in a gym accident, including:

  • Assumption of the risk
  • No duty of care
  • The victim was partly responsible
  • Victim waived liability

6.1. Assumption of the Risk

Under the law, “assumption of the risk” is a legal defense that shifts the liability for an injury to the person who participated in a risky activity. In a fitness center, the gym owners could show that the plaintiff assumed the risk of injury by deciding to voluntarily participate in weight-lifting which carries an inherent risk of injury.

However, a gym member injured in an accident may still be able to file a lawsuit if the defendant was grossly negligent, reckless, or intentionally injured the plaintiff

6.2. Fitness Center Liability Waivers

A liability waiver is a contract that limits the liability of one party from injuries that may occur when participating in certain activities. Like “assumption of the risk,” a liability waiver generally protects the operator or owner from personal injury claims for ordinary negligence. However, a liability waiver may not protect the company from gross negligence, recklessness, illegal activities, or intentional harm.

Most gyms and fitness centers require members to sign a liability waiver to use the gym. If you signed a valid liability waiver and you were injured in a fitness center injury, a jury would have to determine whether the accident was covered by the liability waiver or assumption of risk agreement.

Moreover, you may be able to show that the liability waiver is not enforceable. For example, under contract law, a child is not generally able to enter into legally enforceable contracts. If a child (under the age of 18) signs a liability waiver, that waiver may not be enforceable.6 Liability waivers for minors generally require a parent or legal guardian to sign the waiver on behalf of their child.7

7. Can I file a lawsuit if I was partly to blame for my gym injury?

Even if you were partly to blame for the accident, you may still be able to recover partial damages for your injuries. Under California's “comparative fault” law, if more than one party shares in the fault for the accident, damages can be apportioned based on each party's level of fault.

For example, if you were 10% to blame for your accident and the gym was 90% to blame, the gym could be liable for 90% of your damages.

8. How common are fitness center accidents in California and the U.S.?

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2009, there were almost 1,500 emergency room visits related to gym equipment injuries.Treadmills accounted for most of the gym equipment injuries, with 575 incidents of trips or falls on the running machines. Weight-lifting accounted for another 224 injuries. Some of the most common injuries included broken bones and finger amputations.8

According to a study in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, the overall injury rate among CrossFit participants was almost 20%. Males were more likely to suffer an injury compared to females. The majority of reported injuries included injuries to the shoulder, lower back, and knees.9

A survey of weight training-related injuries found there were more than 25,000 weight training emergency room visits from 1990 to 2007. More than 80% of injured patients were male, with the average age of about 27 years old.The most common diagnosis was a sprain or strain. The most common cause of injury was dropping weights on a person.10

One of the problems with gym activity accidents is that the factors that go into increasing fitness are the same factors that can increase the risk of injury. This includes:

  • Training frequency
  • Workout duration
  • Intensity of exercise

The rates of injury go up when people work out more often, work out for longer, and increase intensity.

Other factors that may increase the risk of injury include anything that distracts a gym-goer from their surroundings. This includes listening to music, watching TV, or reading while working out. Other possible causes of injuries include using equipment for the first time without instruction or training.

8.1. Common Fitness Center Accidents

Fitness center accidents can involve the use of any equipment in a gym, training accidents, and common slip and fall injuries. This includes:

  • Treadmill injuries
  • Stairmaster injuries
  • Exercise bike or spinning class injuries
  • CrossFit injuries
  • Exercise ball falls
  • Resistance band injuries to the face
  • Tripping on floor mats
  • Stairway falls
  • Slip and fall near the pool
  • Pulled muscles
  • Weightlifting injuries
  • Broken foot bones from dropped weights
  • Tripping on gym mats
  • Basketball-related injuries
  • Broken exercise equipment

These accidents can lead to a number of injuries, including permanent injuries or even death. Common gym injuries include:

  • Broken bones
  • Partial amputations
  • Head injuries
  • Concussions
  • Neck and spinal injuries
  • Upper extremity injuries
  • Facial injuries
  • Eye injury
  • Nervous system damage
  • Facial disfigurement
  • Scarring
  • Internal bleeding
  • Crushing injuries

8.2. Fitness Center Equipment Defects

Some gym accidents are caused by a defective piece of exercise equipment. A workout equipment part could break, causing you to lose control of the equipment or suffer an injury. You may not even be aware of what caused the equipment to break. Under California's products liability law, the company who designed, manufactured, or sold the defective workout product is liable for injuries caused by that product.

Examples of defective gym equipment injuries include:

  • Bursting exercise ball
  • Breaking tension bands
  • Weightlifting pins breaking
  • Weight lifting equipment wires snapping
  • Treadmills suddenly stopping
  • Workout benches breaking
  • Elliptical machine defects
  • Stepper collapses
  • Rowing machine malfunctions

Unlike in other personal injury cases, the injured individual does not need to prove the company was negligent. In product defect cases, strict liability can be imposed for:

To recover damages in a products liability case, the injured plaintiff generally has to show:

  1. The defendant designed, manufactured, distributed or sold a defective product;
  2. The product contained the defect when it left the defendant's possession;
  3. The plaintiff used the product in a reasonably foreseeable manner; and
  4. The plaintiff suffered an injury or harm as a result of the defect.

Call us for help...

For questions about fitness center accident lawsuits or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our skilled personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group. If your case is in Nevada, please see our article on Nevada fitness center injury lawsuits.

We have local law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.


Legal References:

  1. See, e.g., California Civil Jury Instructions ("CACI") 400. See also California Civil Code section 1714(a) (“Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.”)
  2. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017) 1000. Premises Liability. Essential Factual Elements.
  3. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017) 1100. Dangerous Condition on Public Property. Essential Factual Elements.
  4. Perez v. Van Groningen & Sons, Inc. (1986) 41 Cal.3d 962, 967 (“Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer is vicariously liable for his employee's torts committed within the scope of the employment.”)
  5. California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 (“A cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another may be asserted by any of the following persons or by the decedent's personal representative on their behalf: (a) The decedent's surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.”)
  6. California Family Code 6710 (“Except as otherwise provided by statute, a contract of a minor may be disaffirmed by the minor before majority or within a reasonable time afterwards or, in case of the minor's death within that period, by the minor's heirs or personal representative.”)
  7. Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist. (1990) 224 Cal.App.3d 1559.
  8. Gym-goers trip, flip and fall in pursuit of fitness. Thousands injured by exercise balls, jump ropes -- especially treadmills. NBC News.com Available at: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/35127528/ns/health-fitness/#.Wr1D54jwbIU
  9. Injury Rate and Patterns Among CrossFit Athletes, Benjamin M. Weisenthal, BA, Christopher A. Beck, MA, PhD, Michael D. Maloney, MD. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine. April 25, 2014.
  10. Epidemiology of weight training-related injuries presenting to United States emergency departments, 1990 to 2007. Kerr ZY, Collins CL, Comstock RD. American Journal of Sports Medicine. April 2010.

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