A few months ago Brenda, age 51, hired a personal trainer at Columbus Fitness Consultants in Ohio. “At our first session my trainer had me doing jumping jacks while I held a medicine ball over my head,” she says. “After just a minute or so into this exercise I fell down with the ball in my hands and I was in a lot of pain.”
At first, Brenda thought she had just pulled a muscle, which is commonly thought amongst people who have experienced a back or neck injury. “The exercise was so simple I couldn’t believe I was hurt, and my trainer didn’t think it was anything serious,” adds Brenda. “I called my brother—he is a professional coach. He said I could have dislocated something and that I should go to the doctor.
"I still thought I could just work it out but after a few days I went to my chiropractor. Before he would work on me, he insisted that I get an x-ray, so I went to the ER. They told me that I had a dislocated rib and sent me back to the chiropractor. He gave me a few manipulations over the next few days and then I got a call from the hospital—the radiologist had discovered a compression fracture of my T6 vertebrae.”
Brenda went back to the hospital, in even more pain. She was given a prescription for Vytorin and was instructed to get an MRI. “I called my insurance company and they will only cover $150 for an MRI, which costs almost $2,000,” she says. “I cannot afford this. I just moved from Ohio to Orlando and depleted all my cash reserves. I didn’t budget for injuring my back.
"I called the gym and told my trainer about my back injury--he said sorry. Then I emailed (I couldn’t reach him by phone) the owner of the gym and asked if I could receive reimbursement for the six sessions I was unable to complete. He did not respond. To be honest, the gym owner made me angrier than anything. Even if he acknowledged my call I would have felt better but ignoring me was rude. I don’t even know if he talked to my trainer.
"I read online that a compression fracture can heal without surgery and I do feel better but I still have pain every day. Obviously something isn’t quite right. It is incredibly hard for me to get comfortable. I can’t sit or stand for extended periods of time and it’s really difficult to get to sleep.
"Obviously no one can predict an injury but the gym hired this trainer, and worked with him to develop a routine that involved the exercises that hurt me. I think they should have reimbursed me for the sessions and contributed to my treatment, such as paying for the MRI."
Insurance providers say that the second leading reason for claims against personal fitness trainers (PFTs) is injury resulting from the use of equipment, according to Idea Health and Fitness Association, the world’s largest association for fitness professionals.
Here is one scenario from its website that sounds eerily familiar to Brenda’s incident:
It involved a PFT supervising a client who is performing a squat or similar exercise with free weights. The trainer encourages the client to use a heavier weight and to perform more repetitions even though the client complains of fatigue. The client suffers a debilitating back injury and sues the trainer and fitness facility.
In 2003, in a back and neck case filed against a personal trainer, a court held that even though a personal trainer was employed by a hospital and the fitness facility was owned by the hospital, the personal trainer was not a health care provider—it didn’t qualify as a medical malpractice case. But the client attempted to sue both the fitness club and the hospital on the basis of injuries sustained during the personal training program, and the court examined the fact that the training occurred in a setting with a close connection to a hospital. Another court might have found that this type of training did need to meet the standards of health care practitioners...
READ MORE BACK AND NECK INJURY LEGAL NEWS
But Brenda says she didn’t sign any waiver, an “assumption of risk” document or an “informed consent” to protect against liability.
In 2008 a U.S. Navy technician sued CrossFit, a privately owned company with 4,000 affiliates in 67 countries, including 2,100 in the US, for inflicting permanent physical damage due to muscle breakdown. He won the case. Crossfit says it does not have a problem compensating exercisers if they have an injury. Perhaps Columbus Fitness Consultants should follow suit.