Messy gym floor Case: Powell v JFIT Holdings Pty Ltd t/as New Dimensions Health and Fitness Centre  NSWDC 264
Date of judgement: 4 June 2020
On the 4th February 2016, a fit and healthy 42-year-old Ms Powell attended her usual gym to find weights littered around the gym floor. Ms Powell had to restack some of the weights to have enough room to complete her anticipated workout regime. Whilst clearing the floor of weights she was undertaking a bending, twisting and lifting movement to relocate a 25kg disc weight that had been left in an awkward position on the floor of the weights area of the gym when she sustained a significant back injury. This motion would ultimately lead to Ms Powell suffering a L4/5 lumbar disc prolapse which would later require four separate significant spinal surgeries.
Basis of claim
Following the injury Ms Powell made a personal injury claim against JFIT Holdings (which operates as New Dimensions Health and Fitness Centre) alleging negligence claiming that the defendant’s staff had not taken any action to clear that area for use by members. Ms Powell claimed her injury was caused by the negligence of the gym. The defendant denies that it was in any way negligent claiming that they have a defence by way of a contractual waiver and/or that Ms Powell should be held to be contributory negligent.
Staff on duty
On the day in question, two receptionists were rostered on duty at the gym. Sarah was rostered to work on the first shift of the day from 7.00am to 2.00pm and Ms Abela was rostered to work from 2:00pm to 8:30pm. Sarah list of duties refers to the task of putting “all weights away hourly” whilst Ms Abela duty was to put “all weights away”, that is, not just on an hourly basis and not at designated time due to the increased number of members attending the gym during the afternoon shift. Ms Abela agreed that of a weekday afternoon, the floor of the weights area was often littered with weights, plates and bar bells that were left there by people who should have known better
The Court found that a gym member would be exposed to a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury whilst clearing away awkwardly scattered weights when left in an untidy state. It was found that a reasonable response to that risk would have been for the gym to require its staff to undertake inspections of the weights area to ensure it was kept tidy and equipment appropriately stored. The gym’s failure to ensure this occurred amounted to a breach of the duty of care owed to Ms Powell. Accordingly, she successfully established liability against the gym for her injuries.
What about the waiver?
Whilst the gym had a waiver, which was signed by Ms Powell, that waiver excluded liability arising from injury sustained during recreational activities. The injury was not found to have been sustained during a recreational activity. Rather, the injury was sustained during a preliminary activity to recreational activity. As such, the Court found that the gym could not rely on the waiver to defend the claim. Ultimately, the Court awarded Ms Powell damages of $551,097.62 and the defendant was to pay the plaintiff’s costs.