Product Liability - Defective Fitness Equipment - Negligence by Gym and Personal Trainer

When you exercise under the guidance of a personal trainer on equipment purchased by a gym, you should be able to count on three things: the trainer knows what he or she is doing; the gym has purchased quality equipment which it inspects periodically; and the equipment you are using is not defective. Unfortunately for our client, all three of these things failed, and he suffered serious personal injuries as a result.

Our client was working out with his trainer, pressing dumbbells while leaning on an exercise ball, also known as a stability ball or a Swiss ball. He had 80 pounds in each hand, and was about to start a rep when the ball exploded. He crashed to the ground, breaking both arms, fracturing a rib, and suffering serious bilateral shoulder injuries.

How could this happen? The ball, first of all, was defective. It was marketed as an anti-burst ball, but it clearly was not. The ball was, the manufacturer claimed, never intended for heavy duty use. It was labeled “core training,” but otherwise carried no warnings on the limitations of its use. The ball completely lacked “anti-burst” properties, as demonstrated by testing on similar balls. Take a look:

The gym could hardly have purchased a cheaper ball. In all likelihood it was found for about $15 at a discount store. Quality gym equipment is substantially more expensive, and it is specifically designed for a rugged environment. Even when deliberately punctured, a true anti-burst ball will leak very slowly. The gym also had no records of the purchase, and no records of inspection or replacement. The gym also attempted to defend on the basis of a waiver of liability in the gym contract. This defense was quickly abandoned when we pointed out that such waivers are illegal under G.L. c. 93, §  80.

The trainer had no formal training on the use of the stability balls. He could not point to a single reference for the notion that using heavy free weights on a ball was an appropriate or safe exercise. He also admitted that he did nothing to inspect the ball or area where it was being used, looking for wear and tear or for wear and tear on the ball. In short, he put the client at unnecessary risk of serious injury.

The plaintiff works in the dental field. He required surgery for the fracture on one of his arms. He initially missed several weeks of work. Later he required surgery to repair a rotator cuff tear in his right shoulder. He is facing the need for surgery in the other shoulder as well. His medical bills were approximately $72,000, and his lost earnings to date exceeded $240,000. He faces future loss of earning of $150,000 and medical bills of $30,000 when he has his second surgery.

Plaintiff had two key liability experts. The first was a plastics expert who had experience with defective exercise balls. Proper manufacturing can produce a sturdy ball that will leak slowly if it is punctured. Tests done on two exemplar balls manufactured by the defendant resulted in the balls exploding. Our expert was prepared to testify that the balls were defective in their design and manufacture.

The other key expert holds a doctorate in exercise and sport physiology, and is also an experienced personal trainer, coach and sports psychologist. She was prepared to testify that the gym was negligent for purchasing substandard equipment and also for failing to inspect it on a regular basis. She was also prepared to testify that the personal trainer was negligent for choosing an exercise which presented a risk of serious injury to the client. The gym was further negligent for failing to supervise the personal trainer, and for failing to have standards for the proper use of exercise equipment. Pressing heavy free weights should be done on a stable bench, not a plastic ball.

This case was handled by David W. White, Jr. The case settled for $1,150,000 six weeks prior to trial.

About Attorney David W. White

Attorney David W. White of Breakstone, White & Gluck in Boston, MAAttorney David W. White represents victims of personal injury, product liability and insurance bad faith, and is one of Boston's most respected legal advocates. Attorney White has been recognized for his work with selection to the Top 100 New England Super Lawyers and the Top 100 Massachusetts Super Lawyers. He is a Past President of the Massachusetts Bar Association.
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