Injuries at the Gym: Can I Sue My Gym?

It’s a common occurrence in gyms across America; whether by lifting too much weight, not being properly hydrated, or using improper form, someone injures themselves during an exercise. After the initial embarrassment of, say, falling off the treadmill, the injury could require medical attention. Based on the circumstances surrounding the injury, there could even be legal recourse against the gym.

What Are the Most Common Injuries?

Weight training and high intensity workouts such as Crossfit have increased dramatically in popularity. Thus, injuries have also increased as well. A study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that there were 970,000 weight training related injuries between 1990 and 2007, with the number of injuries mostly increasing from one year to the next. The most common ways you can injure yourself at a gym involves your joints. Muscle pulls in your arms or legs obviously can and do happen, but when it comes to lifting heavy weights or running on a treadmill, it’s the joints that will take a beating.

  • Knee: Pain from running, jumping or squatting happens on a regular basis. Runner’s knee, along with ACL and PCL injuries are the most common types of knee injuries that could happen. In fact, it’s estimated that knee injuries account for one-third of all doctor visits related to exercise injury.
  • Shin splints; it’s likely that we’ve all had them at one point or another, and that we all hate them. This is common, especially for runners, and can happen for a multitude of reasons: running downhill, a sudden increase in workout frequency and even old shoes are frequent causes. Between 13 and 20 percent of running injuries are attributed to shin splints.
  • Shoulders: The most flexible joint on the human body is also the most vulnerable. Injuries ranging from mild tendinitis to full dislocation can occur, mainly from overuse. Between 8 and 13 percent of exercise injuries are related to the shoulder.
  • Back: Improper form, too much weight and/or incorrect motion are all causes of back pain from exercise. We’ve all been told to, “lift with your knees” before, but nearly 10 percent of sports injuries are related to the spine, and is the second most common reason for doctor visits in general.

Injuries caused by exercise equipment rose 45 percent between 2007 and 2010, most of them involving treadmills. While one can easily hurt themselves even if they are cautious and do everything properly, most injuries due to exercising can still be attributed to user error, and are somewhat easily avoided.

How Can I Avoid Gym Injuries?

When reading through the most common injuries, it’s likely you noticed one word repeatedly: overuse. When on an exercise kick with a specific goal in mind, such as losing weight, it can be easy for someone to think that running every day will be a good way to accomplish that goal. But this is far from the truth. Repetitive motion from the same exercise will do more harm than good.

This is why cycling your exercise routine is so important. Run one day, lift weights the next, ride the bike the day after. If you are weight training, don’t exercise the same muscles more than twice a week. If you are first starting out, don’t overdo it. It’s easy to become eager when beginning a new routine and bite off more than you can chew. Overdoing a workout is a big reason why people injure themselves, rather than experiencing normal aches.

If you do injure yourself, proper rest is crucial. Even if it is just minor soreness, exacerbating an injury, no matter how minimal, is the worst thing you can do, because it creates much more serious complications.

Can I Take Legal Action Against the Gym?

When it comes to personal injury, there are many reasons for which legal action can be taken. If these injuries happen at a gym, however, your resources could be rather limited in terms of recouping any damages or medical costs related to the injury. The first thing to look at if considering a lawsuit is your membership contract.

You probably read, or at least skimmed, this contract when applying for membership, but in this case you are now reading it much more closely. Most, if not all, gyms have a liability waiver clause of some sort in their contract to protect themselves in the event that that someone injures themselves. These waivers will protect the gym, its employees and other members from being held accountable in case of an injury. However, most of these clauses can be challenged in court, under the grounds that they are unenforceable.

Another thing to be aware of is the assumption of risk. You likely have seen a similar phrase on the back of every ticket stub to a baseball game you’ve ever been to, as it protects the stadium and/or the team from being sued if you are hit by a foul ball. In the same vein, there is an assumption of risk when you go to a gym. For example, if you’re playing basketball at the gym, there is an assumption that injuries could happen. Inadvertent elbows, twisted ankles, broken fingers; it’s all part of the game. But, if the basket somehow broke and fell on you, well that is not an assumed risk.

There is also the case of negligence. Filing a claim if you are in a car accident works in similar ways, and rules on this vary greatly depending upon in which state you live. For comparative negligence, you can only receive compensation for how much of the injury was not your fault. So if you are deemed 50 percent at fault, you’ll only receive 50 percent in damages. However, some states have contributory negligence laws, and this means that even if you are only 5 percent at fault, you won’t receive any compensation at all.
Using proper form when you exercise, avoiding injury and heeding the signs your body gives you will keep you out of the doctor’s office, and prevent you from even having to consider the hassle of a lawsuit.

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