A woman who suffered severe neck damage in 2008 during a workout in a Buffalo, New York, fitness club has won a $980,000 judgment in New York State Supreme Court.
A jury decided that the gym was at fault for directing the woman, Linda Baldi-Perry, to engage in a strenuous workout despite her history of neck and back injuries, her lawyer, Joseph D. Morath Jr., told Club Industry. Baldi-Perry suffered a serious neck injury during the workout and has had to undergo two additional surgeries.
The jury awarded total damages of $1.4 million ($400,000 for past pain and suffering and $1 million for future pain and suffering). However, the amount Baldi-Perry is entitled to receive was reduced because she was found to be partially at fault. Jurors assigned 70 percent of the fault to the gym and 30 percent to Baldi-Perry.
According to a story on BuffaloNews.com, Baldi-Perry sought out a personal trainer after having cervical fusion surgery in 2005 to remove degenerated discs in her neck and replace them with a bone graft.
Her doctor advised her to stay active to avoid future operations, and Baldi-Perry signed up for personal training at the gym in Buffalo. After Baldi-Perry shared her personal medical history, Morath says, the trainer assured her that he had worked with other clients who had surgeries and could safely train her despite her physical limitations. Baldi-Perry worked with the trainer for two years until his club went out of business. He then opened a new gym down the street — Fitness 360 (which has since closed) — and continued to train Baldi-Perry, Morath says.
"At the first gym, he seemed to take her condition into consideration and limit what he had her do," Morath says. "The second gym, however, was described by witnesses as a whole new environment with a whole new attitude. They started having a lot of competitions between the trainers and the clients and did a lot of high-impact and circuit training, which is stuff that she shouldn't have been doing."
On Oct. 29, 2008, the trainer had his clients perform a workout and compete to finish it in the shortest amount of time. When Baldi-Perry questioned whether she could handle the workout, the trainer told her to trust him, Morath says. As a result, she attempted to do the workout, which consisted of three sets of five burpees, five jumping jacks and five dead-lifts with no break in-between.
"Given her medical history, that workout should never have taken place," Morath says. "There are a million other things he could have done that would have achieved the same result. Because he made a very poor decision about the workout that she did, she had severe damage to her neck. The C 6-7 disc was ripped right off the bone, and the two discs above that were damaged as well."
Since then, Baldi-Perry has experienced pain and undergone two additional surgeries, and her doctor has told her that further surgeries will not be able to fix all her medical issues. As a result, Baldi-Perry will have headaches, chronic pain in her neck, radiating arm pain and a limited range of motion in her neck for the rest of her life, according to the story on BuffaloNews.com.
"They couldn't fix the discs above it, and they basically would have had to fuse the entire neck," Morath says. "Instead, they fixed the most problematic portions of her neck, but the rest are still damaged."
Although Morath says he hoped the jury would find his client to be only 10 percent at fault, he agreed that she did play a role in what happened because she performed the exercises even though she questioned the safety of the workout.
Morath says he hopes that the outcome of the case will encourage personal trainers to not take on a client unless they can safely train them.
"Personal trainers should evaluate their own abilities and not put profit over someone's safety," he says. "If they're not qualified to train someone with a prior medical history, then they shouldn't do it."