You may recall the headlines last year when Dave Goldberg, the 47-year-old chief executive of $2 billion company SurveyMonkey, died unexpectedly after falling off a treadmill on vacation. The husband of Facebook’s CEO Sheryl Sandberg, Goldberg suffered massive head injuries.
The case of 60-year-old Etelvina Jimenez was far less high-profile, though it was highlighted recently in the Sacramento Bee. In 2011, Jimenez reportedly fainted while on a treadmill at a 24 Hour Fitness location. She fell backward and hit her head on equipment, suffering numerous skull fractures. Although the facility may not have been able to prevent her fainting or protect her from all injuries, improper placement of other equipment too close to the rear of the treadmill is a real problem at many facilities, who try to pack as many pieces of equipment as they can into a space – despite manufacturer instructions.
ASTM International, which is in an international company that publishes voluntary technical standards for a wide range of equipment, generally recommends a clearance of about 6.5 feet behind treadmills. The owner’s manual on this particular piece of equipment recommended a clearance of 3 feet in width and 6 feet deep directly behind the running belt. The back of the treadmill at this location was just 3 feet 10 inches from the metal box of a leg exercise machine.
According to fitness center insurance agents who spoke to Bee reporters, “There isn’t a health club in the country” that puts the recommended 6 feet behind every treadmill in their facility. Most gyms allow a standard 4 feet so that wheelchairs can get through, but that’s about as much space as you’ll see.
But we may see that change if plaintiffs like Jimenez start to prevail in these cases. She is personally seeking $3.8 million in damages alleging permanent brain damage resulting in costly medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
The U.S. Product Safety Commission reports an estimated half a million people are treated in hospital emergency rooms every year due to exercise equipment injuries. Remember U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s eye injury? The 75-year-old Las Vegas Democrat has filed a $50,000 product liability lawsuit against the maker of a latex exercise band that snapped while he was working out at his home last year. He broke several bones around his right eye and also suffered rib fractures when he fell to the floor. He ultimately lost vision in his right eye.
Of those exercise equipment injuries, about 24,000 involve treadmills. Most commonly, those incidents involve bone fractures, abrasions and burns.
User distraction and error is a big problem in these incidents, but that doesn’t necessarily absolve the manufacturer or the gym from liability in these cases – even when the gym obtains a liability waiver. Placing exercise equipment too close to walls or other equipment could be grounds to assert gross negligence, from which a waiver will not protect.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Brain-injury lawsuit highlights treadmill risks, Sept. 26, 2016, By Claudia Buck, Sacramento Bee
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