24 Hour Fitness is the largest private gym and fitness center chain in the world, with over 400 clubs scattered throughout 13 U.S. states, including California, New York, and Texas.
More than four million people are members of 24 Hour Fitness, and use their facilities to get in shape and stay healthy. But what should you do when a visit to 24 Hour Fitness yields the exact opposite result, and you end up sick or injured?
A lot can go wrong in a 24 Hour Fitness club. When you put dozens of physically active people in the same room, in close proximity to each other and to heavy fitness equipment, accidents are never far off the horizon.
And sure enough, accidents do happen at 24 Hour Fitness, and more frequently than many of us would like to think. Nearly 460,000 Americans are injured in exercise accidents each year, many of them at establishments like 24 Hour Fitness.
We hope that such an accident never happens to you, but if it does, then you still have many legal options at your disposal, and this article goes over some of them.Free Case Evaluation
What Kinds of Injuries Occur at 24 Hour Fitness?
Injuries at 24 Hour Fitness clubs can take almost any form imaginable. They may include minor injuries such as bruises and scrapes, but they may also include more serious injuries such as fractures, concussions, dislocations, and sprains. In the worst cases, they may be fatal or lead to permanent disabilities such as amputation, paralysis, or brain damage.
So what causes all their injuries?
One of the most obvious causes of injuries will involve machinery or equipment failure.
Among the most dangerous machines in the gym are treadmills. A while back, for instance, one woman in Sacramento sued 24 Hour Fitness after suffering severe brain injuries when she fell off a treadmill and hit her head on another exercise machine. The plaintiff, Etelvina Jimenez, alleged that the two machines had been placed closer to each other than was safe.
But treadmills are far from the only culprit. Just about any type of gym equipment can be dangerously defective, including dumbbell and barbell weights, rowing machines, ellipticals, indoor bicycles, chin-up bars, extension benches, exercise balls, and more.
Sometimes, exercise equipment can go wrong in completely bizarre and unforeseeable ways. Senator Harry Reid, for instance, suffered a serious injury in early 2015 after an exercise band hit him in the eye when he was working out.
Senator Reid’s injury occurred in a home gym rather than a 24 Hour Fitness club, but this incident should give you some idea of how unpredictable exercise equipment injuries can be. And yes, Reid did sue the exercise band manufacturer.
However, 24 Hour Fitness injuries are not limited to those involving equipment. One of the most common types of premise liability injury, which can occur in any establishment, involves trip and fall cases (known alternately as slip and fall cases, depending on the precise nature of the accident).
Members of 24 Hour Fitness might trip or slip over carpet, puddles of liquid, loose weights, or just about anything. While this might not sound serious on the surface, such accidents can lead to grave injury, especially if the victim hits their head.
Another common danger in 24 Hour Fitness involves not injury, but illness. Gyms aren’t always the cleanest places, particularly if they have as many users as 24 Hour Fitness does. If the gym employees do not regularly clean the premises and equipment, and work to ensure sanitary conditions, then users can be exposed to dangerous bacteria.
In 2013, for instance, a member of 24 Hour Fitness sued the establishment after contracting Legionnaires Disease in a 24 Hour Fitness pool.
Where do all these injuries and illnesses take place? They can happen in just about any corner of a 24 Hour Fitness club, including the gym proper, the basketball courts, the locker rooms, the bathrooms, the children’s play areas, and elsewhere.
However, not all parts of 24 Hour Fitness are equal in terms of the numbers and types of injuries that occur there. A few locations, such as saunas, pose unique risks. One woman, for instance, was killed after being left overnight in a locked sauna in 24 Hour Fitness.
Who Can Be Held Responsible for a 24 Hour Fitness Injury?
As you might imagine, most injuries which occur at the gym won’t be actionable.
Most regular gym attendees tend to get injured at some point or other, and this is usually caused by factors such as overexertion and bad workout form. In many cases, this is just something one must take in stride as the price of living an active lifestyle, and 24 Hour Fitness cannot reasonably be held responsible for every little mishap that occurs.
However, in cases where 24 Hour Fitness caused or contributed to your injuries through their own negligence, you may be able to hold them responsible.
Lawsuits against 24 Hour Fitness generally fall under the umbrella of premises liability law. You see, premise owners such as 24 Hour Fitness are considered to have a legal duty of care to regularly ensure that they are reasonably free of dangers. If they fail to do so, they may be sued for damages resulting from accidents caused by those dangers.
24 Hour Fitness doesn’t have to make its premises completely safe. This would be impossible, because gyms (and indeed all places) will never be completely devoid of danger. But they do have to make them reasonably safe enough that if you go into a 24 Hour Fitness as a member and begin to use the premises as an ordinary person would, you should not be subject to any preventable injury.
There are a few different classifications of premise users under premises liability law. If you are a 24 Hour Fitness member, then you are considered an invitee, which means that 24 Hour Fitness has a fairly high legal duty to ensure that the premises are safe for your use.
(Not all occupants will have the same rights as invitees. Licensees, who do not have a direct contractual relationship with a premise owner, are afforded a lower duty of care. And trespassers, who are on the premises against the wishes of the premise owners, typically have no legal protections at all.)
The duties of 24 Hour Fitness include the duty to regularly sanitize the premises, to ensure that all machines are in good working order, to clean the floor of spills and other tripping or slipping hazards, and even to secure the basic safety of the premises so that 24 Hour Fitness members are safe from dangerous outsiders.
What If I Signed a Liability Waiver?
If you joined 24 Hour Fitness, then you probably signed a liability waiver in which you agreed to hold 24 Hour Fitness harmless for any accident which may occur. Many clients get hung up on this point, and understandably so. Does the fact that you signed a liability waiver mean that you can’t sue?
The truth is somewhat more complex, and just because you signed a liability waiver does not mean you have completely surrendered your legal rights.
Liability waivers do have standing in the court system. And the 24 Hour Fitness liability waiver itself has some significant legal precedent behind it. In the 2015 case Grebing v. 24 Hour Fitness USA, Inc., the courts dismissed a negligence lawsuit against 24 Hour Fitness on the grounds of the plaintiff having signed a liability waiver.
But liability waivers do have a couple of restrictions in the court system. First, they must not be overly broad. Second, while they may protect an establishment against being sued for ordinary negligence, they do not offer protection against suits for gross negligence.
If 24 Hour Fitness has done something which is grossly negligent, and this has caused you an injury, then the courts will likely refuse to enforce the liability waiver. All plaintiffs are generally considered to have the right to sue for gross negligence, and a liability waiver in which they sign away this right will not be considered legitimate or enforceable.
What’s the difference between ordinary and gross negligence? It’s mainly a matter of degree. Ordinary negligence can involve any minor mistake on behalf of the defendant. Gross negligence must go above and beyond this, and involve conduct that is extremely careless and shows wanton disregard for your basic safety.
This may sound like an arbitrary distinction, but most of the time, the courts can draw a fairly coherent line between ordinary and gross negligence. Most of us intuitively know what constitutes a mere mistake, and what constitutes extraordinary carelessness.
So yes, liability waivers will limit you, but not as much as you might think. The waiver will prevent you from suing for any small mistake on the part of 24 Hour Fitness, but it will not prevent you from suing in the event that they did something truly and indubitably terrible.
After all, we’ve already mentioned a few lawsuits against 24 Hour Fitness above. If the liability waiver completely precluded the possibility of suing, then none of these lawsuits would have ever even been filed!
But if you are uncertain how strong a case you may have, then talk to a lawyer. You can’t be expected to figure out all these legal matters on your own, and a consultation with an attorney will help you figure out whether you have any grounds to sue 24 Hour Fitness. At the very least, consultations are usually free, so you have nothing to lose!
Intentional acts by 24 Hour Fitness, of course, are also not covered by any liability waiver. But since 24 Hour Fitness probably isn’t out to hurt you, this type of lawsuit is pretty rare (although not impossible).
Who Else Can I Sue?
If you get in an accident on 24 Hour Fitness premises, then 24 Hour Fitness will be the obvious party to sue. But depending on what caused your injury, you may sue other parties in addition to, or in place of, 24 Hour Fitness itself.
For instance, if you were injured by some defect in the gym equipment, then 24 Hour Fitness may be partly or wholly blameless. Instead, such a lawsuit may be filed against the company which manufactured the gym equipment. Of course, this will depend on what was wrong with the equipment, whether it was made defectively by the manufacturer or became defective as a result of poor maintenance by 24 Hour Fitness.
Lawsuits against manufacturers of consumer goods involve product liability law. They will tend to be easier than premise liability lawsuits against 24 Hour Fitness for a couple of reasons. For one, you will not have had to sign a waiver. For another, you may be able to use the tort of strict liability, which means that will not need to prove negligence by the company which made the defective product.
If a contractor or subcontractor who was working in 24 Hour Fitness caused an injury, then you may be eligible to sue the contractor. And if a fellow member accidentally hits you and causes an injury, you may be able to sue them for your damages.
What Do I Do If I Was Injured in a 24 Hour Fitness?
First and most importantly, seek immediate medical attention.
This is what you should do after any accident, and a 24 Hour Fitness accident is no exception. Your health always come first before anything. If you were seriously injured then you will likely be taken by ambulance to the hospital, but if you were less seriously injured then you should still see a doctor about your injuries as soon as possible, preferably the same day. A lot of injuries are more serious than they may seem at first!
Second, gather evidence.
A lot of the evidence can be gathered at the scene of the accident, when you are still in 24 Hour Fitness. If you are not too injured to do so, then you should take as many pictures of the accident as possible, from as many angles as possible, and get the names and contact information of all the witnesses who were present. If it was a busy day in the gym, there may be dozens.
The rest of the evidence will be gathered later on. Keep a careful record of all your doctors’ visits, including the initial visit and any and all subsequent ones related to the injury. Keep your medical bills in the same place. You should also keep a more informal journal of all the little ways in which the accident injuries interfere with your daily life. Both of these types of records, the formal and informal, will be important in helping you gather the proper amount of damages later.
There are other types of evidence as well. Your accident may have been caught on security camera, and you should try to get ahold of this security camera footage if possible. Even if you didn’t get pictures of the original accident, this footage can come very much in handy.
Third, while you build your case, do not give 24 Hour Fitness any evidence of their own.
This means that you should avoid contact with 24 Hour Fitness or any of its representatives. Do not talk to them, do not make any statements, and do not sign anything. No matter how forceful or persistent they may be, politely defer all requests to your attorney.
24 Hour Fitness, like most businesses of comparable size, have full time liability claims representatives which handle all claims against the business. These claims representatives are not your friends, and they will try to turn your words against you. Don’t give them anything to work with! Be careful talking to strangers, too, if any “neutral” third parties contact you.
You also should not accept any settlement offers without getting a lawyer’s opinion. 24 Hour Fitness may try to buy you off early on with a low-ball offer, and you might be stressed and cash-strapped enough to jump at the offer, but this is a mistake. Once you’ve signed the offer it’s too late to go back, and the settlement will likely prove woefully inadequate.
Instead, you should refer all of these matters to a competent and experienced personal injury attorney. A good attorney will be able to use their experience in this field to make up for your lack of experience, and even the scales between you and 24 Hour Fitness.
Your attorney will deal with the company so that you don’t have to, and thus allow you to focus on healing from whatever injuries you have suffered without having to singlehandedly bear the burden of filing a claim (which will probably lead to a better long-term medical outcome for you, and not just a better legal one).
Torklaw attorneys have extensive experience dealing with 24 Hour Fitness and other premises liability cases. We know how to take on big gyms and get our clients the full damages that they deserve and to which they are entitled by law. If you are getting the short end of the stick from 24 Hour Fitness, and are not sure where to turn, call Torklaw today and schedule a FREE consultation.