Causes of Personal Trainer Lawsuits — Part II

Part II – When an Injury Occurs

By Doyice Cotten
Rac photos 020Regardless of how careful a personal trainer is, injuries will occur. And when the injury occurs, the question becomes “What do you do now?” Do you suddenly slip on your M.D. outfit and make a diagnosis and provide a cure? Do you panic? Or do you already have an emergency action plan and simply follow that plan? The following three cases will help you to know WHAT NOT TO DO!

In a California case (Honeycutt v. Meridian Sports Club, 2014), Tonya Honeycutt was a beginning student in a kickboxing class taught by Hakeem Alexander, a certified personal trainer and an experienced martial arts instructor. The instructor was helping Honeycutt execute a roundhouse kick and her knee was injured in the process. Plaintiffs argued that instruction was faulty in that that kick is an intermediate or advanced technique. Further, they testify that after the injury the personal trainer manipulated Honeycutt’s knee causing the knee to snap.

The court ruled that injury in the sport is an inherent risk and that the waiver protected against negligence claims. Honeycutt claimed that the trainer’s manipulation of the knee was gross negligence; however, the court said there was no evidence of gross negligence. The trainer conduct in manipulating the knee seemed to exceed his expertise and the case might not have ended in his favor in many states.

In another case (Hinkal v. Gavin Pardoe & Gold’s Gym, 2015), Hinkle was injured while working with a personal trainer. He alleged that the trainer put too much weight on the machine and caused an injury resulting in C5 disc surgery. Hinkle claimed that Pardoe failed to recognize the seriousness of the injury and had him continue exercising. The liability waiver was not enforced by the Pennsylvania court and the case was remanded for trial.

A third case did not specifically involve an athletic trainer, but illustrates a situation in which a trainer might find him or herself. In Locke v. Life Time Fitness, Inc. (2014), a club client collapsed and his heart stopped beating. Club employees attended him, but failed to retrieve an AED which was available at the club. They did call EMS which arrived 8 minutes later – but too late to save the victim. The waiver protected the club from liability for their negligent emergency treatment, but did not address the failure of the club to adequately train the employees as to proper emergency response. Summary judgment failed on that point and the case was sent back for trial. A personal trainer should maintain certification in first aid, CPA, and AED.

Risk Management Summary
These are just a few examples of unwise responses to client injury. Some risk management guidelines for injury situations might include:
1. Personal trainers should not become “amateur” athletic trainers or doctors. Stay within your area of expertise.
2. The trainer should not ignore “pain warning” in the client. Be certain there is no injury before proceeding and be sure future activity will not aggravate the injury.
3. If a serious condition is suspected, call for emergency help immediately.
4. Maintain first aid, CPA, and AED certifications and always know where the AED and the telephone are located.
5. Don’t be afraid to use an AED if it is necessary. Some businesses have even instructed employees not to use them because of liability if a mistake is made. All states and the federal government have immunity statutes protecting users – though, granted, some state immunity statutes are better than others.