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This New Year, Perhaps Tell Your Personal Trainer to "Butt Out"

January 4, 2013

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Many of us have already begun the annual pilgrimage back into crowded gyms with the intent to follow through on New Year's resolutions.  But if you're looking for a personal trainer to help guide you on your path to personal fulfillment, it may be a good idea to make sure he or she does not instead set you on a path to pain.
In a split decision, the Appellate Division, Third Department, has ruled that where a gym patron suffered a back injury while performing a squat exercise pursuant to a personal trainer's written instructions, a jury should generally decide whether the patron assumed the risk of injury.
Under the well-settled doctrine of assumption risk, a person who voluntarily participates in a recreational activity is deemed to have assumed the inherent risks of that activity.
Plaintiff Dianne A. Layden took part in a personal training session at a fitness center with a personal trainer, defendant Angela Plante.  Prior to her training session, plaintiff advised Ms. Plante that she had a history of back problems.  Ms. Plante supervised plaintiff's training session, and provided her with written instructions on how to repeat the exercises independently.  Plaintiff returned to the gym days later, and attempted to perform a weight-lift move known as a "Smith squat," as described in the written instructions.  While performing the maneuver, plaintiff experienced back pain, which thereafter required surgery to correct two herniated discs.
Plaintiff commenced a lawsuit against the trainer, and the owner of the fitness center.  The defendants each moved for summary judgment based on the doctrine of assumption of risk.
The Third Department reversed the trial court's decision granting the defendants summary judgment, and ruled that a jury should decide whether plaintiff assumed the risk of injury when attempting to perform the squat exercise.  The court noted that the application of the assumption of risk doctrine is typically a question of fact best resolved by a jury.  Specifically, the majority found that the plaintiff raised a question of fact as to whether the trainer's potentially misleading directions "unreasonably heightened the risks to which [plaintiff] was exposed."  Plaintiff's experts testified that the trainer improperly instructed plaintiff to "stick her butt out" while performing the squats.  Instead, plaintiff's experts averred that a person should maintain a straight back when performing Smith squats.
So this New Year, instead of assuming that your personal trainer will prevent you from getting injured, you may wish to simply tell him or her to "butt out" of your workout.
Layden v. Plante, 2012 WL 6698873, 2 (3d Dept. 2012).
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Many thanks to Steve Kaye, Jr. who assisted with this post.


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