Why gyms should exercise caution and keep it clean

Risk Matters - Spring 2020

In June this year, a New South Wales court found a fitness centre liable for more than $500,000 in damages over a messy gym floor.

Gym goer Jacqueline Powell (42) was left cleaning up weights following the popular “tradies hour” (sic) at Dimensions Health and Fitness Centre in Sydney.

Ms Powell injured her back while performing a twisting motion while moving a 25kg weight left in an awkward position on the floor.

There was a staff member rostered on during “tradies hour” (sic) who was responsible for clearing the area from 2pm to 8.30pm.

The waiver defence

Owner and operator of the gym – JFIT Holdings Pty Ltd claimed they weren’t liable for Ms Powell’s injury as she’d signed a waiver acknowledging responsibility for any injuries she sustained during recreational activities.

JFIT claimed that Ms Powell was taking part in a training program when she was injured and therefore performing a recreational activity.

If this were the case, JFIT could rely on the “exclusion of liability clause” in the membership agreement.

However, the court found that moving the weights was actually a housekeeping activity and therefore Ms Powell was not taking part in a recreational activity when she was injured.

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Core observations

Terms and conditions at gyms often contain liability waivers. However, as JFIT found these can’t always be relied upon.

Some additional steps gym operators should take to prevent injuries to gym users:

  • Direct members to clean up equipment after use.
  • Routinely inspect equipment and exercise areas.
  • Have staff members keep a record of the inspections.
  • Use checklists to document the type and frequency of housekeeping tasks (these checklists can help in defending claims).

Call your account manager or regional risk coordinator on 08 9483 8888 for more advice on gyms or recreation areas. 

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