Thursday, April 6, 2006
Health Club Held Not Liable for Patron’s Heart Attack
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The primary assumption-of-risk doctrine is a complete defense to a suit by a health club patron who alleges that the club failed to identify cardiac risk factors in designing his personalized training program, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
The justices upheld Riverside Superior Court Judge Richard Todd Fields’ grant of summary judgment in favor of Neste Enterprises, which does business as Gold’s Gym. The plaintiff, Masood Rastai, alleged that Gold’s Gym agreed to provide him with a personalized fitness program but failed to investigate his health history, and that his trainer should have realized that he was not fit and was overweight and would not respond well to rigorous training.
Rastai said the trainer pushed him too hard and would not give him a break, resulting in his suffering a heart attack near the end of his first 60-minute training session.
In concluding that the trainer and club operator had no liability, Justice Art McKinster reasoned that the duties of a physical fitness trainer are similar to those of an athletic coach—to avoid increasing the dangers to a client beyond those inherent in the activity.
The jurist wrote:
“The obvious purpose of working out with a personal trainer is to improve physical fitness and appearance.In order to accomplish that goal, the participant must engage in strenuous physical activity.The risks inherent in that activity include physical distress in general, and in particular muscle strains, sprains, tears, and pulls, not only of the obvious muscles such as those in the legs and arms, but also of less obvious muscles such as the heart.Stress on the cardiovascular system as a result of the physical exertion that is an integral part of fitness training with a personal trainer is a risk inherent in the activity.Eliminating that risk would alter the fundamental nature of the activity.”
The evidence, the justice went on to say, showed that the trainer verbally pushed the plaintiff to complete the workout, and that the plaintiff told him he was experiencing shortness of breath, but did not say he was having chest pains.
At most, McKinster wrote, the plaintiff established that the trainer “did not accurately assess plaintiff’s level of physical fitness” and “may have interpreted plaintiff’s physical complaints, including his tiredness, shortness of breath, and profuse sweating, as the usual signs of physical exertion due to lack of conditioning rather than as symptoms of a heart attack.”
But in the absence of proof that the trainer intended to injure the client or acted recklessly, the assumption-of-risk doctrine precludes a finding of liability, the justice said.
The case is Rostai v. Neste Enterprises, 06 S.O.S. 1728.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company