Woman Injured on Gym’s Exercise Device Collects $750,000 Settlement
A woman who broke her hip and wrist while working with a personal trainer at Planet Fitness has settled her lawsuit for $750,000.
Susan “Suzie” Butler, then 62, moved from California to Guilford in 2009 after her husband got a job with a biotech company. She was very active, and liked to swim, bike and rock climb. Soon after settling in to her Connecticut home, Butler joined a Planet Fitness gym in Branford and hired its head personal trainer, John Saville, for 10 sessions at about $75 an hour. For the first three sessions, things went fine. But according to one of Butler’s lawyers, John Naizby, of the Marcarelli Naizby Law Firm in Madison, things went horribly wrong during a session on Sept. 22, 2009.
During the first three sessions, Saville and his client worked with a Bosu Ball, a training device consisting of an inflated ball attached to a flat platform. During the first few training sessions, Butler did exercises using the rubber ball portion of the device. During that fourth session, the trainer turned the device over so that Butler’s weight was on the platform side.Naizby said Butler was told to stand on the platform side. She was then catapulted into the air by the trainer, and landed on her right hip and wrist. Though she was in pain, the trainer did not help her up, according to Naizby. Instead, Butler’s husband finally came over to assist her. “She’s already got a fused ankle,” said Naizby. “She never should’ve been on a Bosu Ball to begin with.”Naizby said the Bosu Ball instructions said use of the platform side of the device can cause serious injury or death.
During a deposition, he said the trainer acknowledged not being aware of those instructions, nor was he provided with any instructions by his employer on how to safely train a client with a Bosu Ball.
After the fall, Butler’s husband took his wife to a walk in medical clinic in Guilford, where a doctor diagnosed the fractures in her hip and wrist. She was then transported by ambulance to Yale New Haven Hospital. The next day, she had hip surgery. Two days after that, she underwent the first of three surgeries on her wrist. Butler spent nearly two weeks in the hospital and rehab. Afterward, she hired attorney Diana Insolio of Madison.
Butler was upset at how adamant the trainer and Planet Fitness were that the incident was her own fault. Their position was largely because of the paperwork Butler filled out before she began working with the trainer. “I felt terrible for what Suzie had gone through and Planet Fitness and their personal trainer failed to take any responsibility for what happened,” said Insolio. “I ultimately filed suit and was faced with two law firms claiming that Suzie was to blame and she had signed a waiver releasing all the parties for any of their negligence.”
The initial lawsuit accused Planet Fitness and the trainer of negligence. Wanting to bring in a litigator for what was looking like a case headed for trial, Insolio reached out to Naizby, who challenged the Planet Fitness waiver. In response, lawyers for the gym filed special defenses claiming Butler waived all liability when she signed the contract. Naizby then filed a motion for summary judgment against the special defense, arguing that a contractual release of a gym from responsibility for negligence is unenforceable in Connecticut for reasons of public policy. The issue was briefed and argued before Superior Court Judge Jon Blue in New Haven. Blue sided with the plaintiff. “Thousands, if not millions, of ordinary people go to gyms like Planet Fitness and there is a societal expectation that such activities will be reasonably safe,” Blue wrote in his opinion on the motion last July. “It would be illogical to relieve a professional gym like Planet Fitness, with superior expertise and information concerning the dangers of activities conducted on its premises, from the responsibility of reasonable care in conducting those activities.”
Planet Fitness was defended by Gina Hall, of Morrison Mahoney in Hartford. Hall did not respond to an interview request. In court documents, she argued that the specific act causing the injury—the use of the Bosu Ball—came with inherent risks. Blue disagreed.”Few people would go to a provider of sky diving or bungee cord jumping activities expecting such activities to be risk free,” wrote Blue. “But the societal expectations of gyms like Planet Fitness is entirely different. Ordinary people attend gyms like Planet Fitness hoping to achieve—what else?—fitness. They do not go to such establishments expecting physical risk.” Blue’s decision “changed the dynamic of the case,” according to Naizby.
Recently, the two sides went to mediation before Superior Court Judge Michael Riley. He helped the parties broker the $750,000 settlement. “I truly am happy for Suzie and her husband, Bill,” said Naizby. “They are great people who did not deserve to be in this position. Suzie is back to biking 80 plus miles a week and swimming 1,500 meters three times a week. “Naizby said while the lawsuit was pending, the Butlers moved back to San Diego. Naizby, who has friends in San Diego, was able to go out and visit the Butlers and break the good news about the settlement.
One of the things that alarmed Naizby during the course of the case was how lax credentialing is for personal trainers. He said he was “shocked” to discover that someone could become a trainer by paying $495, reading a few books that are sent in the mail and taking a home test. When he was asked to represent Butler, Naizby enrolled in the same course the Planet Fitness trainer had completed. Naizby said he’s paid his fee, and received the books. Now he just needs to find time to finish the test.
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