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Legal Q&A

Case study: Pilates injury assumed inherent risk

Thomas v. Broadway Pilates, Ltd.

Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County

April 6, 2007

[Note: Opinion of the court has been edited and citations omitted.]

This case arises from an alleged injury sustained by plaintiff on March 26, 2004 during the course of a Pilates lesson at the defendant's Pilates studio. Plaintiff claims that her hand slipped while she was performing a Pilates maneuver under the supervision of an instructor on a piece of equipment known as a "Reformer."

Plaintiff began Pilates training at defendant's location on or about April, 2001. She trained at defendant's facility about once a week, occasionally twice a week, and very rarely would she skip a week. She had a standing Friday at 11:00 o'clock appointment usually with Jacqueline Lynch ("Lynch"), plaintiff's instructor, but on occasion with another instructor.

Plaintiff used the Reformer on a daily basis each time she visited defendant's studio. The sessions were usually one hour. On the date of her accident, almost toward the end of the session, about ten minutes before the session ended, her accident occurred. The period about 15 minutes before the accident occurred, plaintiff did not have any complaints about the manner or method in which Lynch was working with her on the Pilates exercises.

Plaintiff had done the particular exercise involved in her accident before. She had started doing this exercise a couple of months before her accident. Plaintiff had not been told that this particular exercise was something she would work towards doing when she was at the appropriate strength or dexterity level. When she first started doing this exercise, Lynch demonstrated the exercise, verbalized the activity and then plaintiff performed the exercise.

Plaintiff had never made any complaints to the owner or the trainer or any other instructors regarding the condition of the equipment in the studio, or about the manner or method in which defendant was providing physical assistance to her.

At the time of the accident, when plaintiff did her first "repetition" or "pass" Lynch was standing to plaintiff's left; plaintiff thinks Lynch was holding a cup of coffee. In the process of doing the second "repetition" or "pass," plaintiff states: "I lost my grip...with both hands" she "...just couldn't support [the carriage] any more." Plaintiff did not physically feel any muscular pain or tension that made her lose her grip; she "felt unstable" and "probably" felt shaking in her arms.

At no time while plaintiff was on the Reformer, did she remember saying anything to her trainer, Lynch, nor did she ask for any type of help or assistance.

Lynch was a client at defendant's studio in December, 1998; she became an instructor at defendant's studio in September, 1999. She had been a Pilates instructor for two and one half years before plaintiff became her client.

Plaintiff liked to do exercises that she felt were difficult or that would bring a sense of invigoration to her if she did them. When the accident occurred, plaintiff was on one of the larger Reformers. It occurred after 45 minutes of training. The accident occurred while doing the snake exercise.

Plaintiff had been doing this exercise for two to three months, once a week, a total of eight to twelve times, three repetitions on each — one's left and right side — before the date of the accident. Up until the date of plaintiff's accident, she had not had any problems performing the snake.

Every time plaintiff did the snake exercise, Lynch "spotted" her by placing her hands "sort of ...right near [plaintiff's] hips but not on her." At the time of plaintiff's accident, she was performing the snake, her hands slipped and her eye hit the carriage on the way out; as she was going out, she fell. Before the date of plaintiff's accident, she had never made any complaints to Lynch to the effect that she was not comfortable doing this exercise.

On plaintiff's first two repetitions doing the snake on the date of her accident, Lynch advised her that she was holding her hands in an incorrect position. Lynch asked plaintiff if she was in pain, if that was why plaintiff wasn't doing the exercise correctly. One can fall if one does not place and hold one's hands in the proper position. When Lynch asked plaintiff if she was in pain, plaintiff responded that she was okay and that she wanted to do it again. Lynch had her hands in position around plaintiff's waist. Plaintiff's fall was "quicker than a second."

Plaintiff claimed she did not have an awareness, or appreciation of, the nature of the risk and therefore did not voluntarily assume any risk. Defendant, however, contended that plaintiff assumed the risk of her injury, thus barring her recovery.

Assumption of risk
The applicability of the assumption of risk doctrine depends on the nature and scope of the participant's awareness and consent. As a general rule, participants properly may be held to have consented, by their participation, to those injury-causing events which are known, apparent or reasonably foreseeable consequences of the participation. On the other hand, the defendant generally has a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect athletic participants from unassumed, concealed or unreasonably increased risks.

To establish plaintiff's assumption of risk, a defendant must show that plaintiff was aware of the defective or dangerous condition and the resultant risk, although it is not necessary to demonstrate that plaintiff foresaw the exact manner in which his injury occurred. Whether it can be concluded that a plaintiff made an informed estimate of the risks involved in an activity before deciding to participate depends on the openness and obviousness of the risk, plaintiff's background, skill, and experience, plaintiffs own conduct under the circumstances, and the nature of defendant's conduct. Perhaps the most important factor, however, is whether the risk is inherent in the activity.

A plaintiff will not be held to have assumed those risks that are not inherent, i.e., not "ordinary and necessary" in the sport. The conditions that exist at similar facilities are relevant to that inquiry, as are the rules of the game. Generally, the issue of assumption of risk is a question of fact for the jury; however, if the facts are not in dispute, it may be decided as a matter of law...

[I]n assessing whether an owner or operator of an athletic facility has violated a duty of care to participants who are injured on premises while engaged in voluntary sports activities, the applicable standard should include whether the conditions caused by the defendant's negligence arc unique and created a dangerous condition over and above the usual dangers that are inherent in the sport. A showing of some negligent act or inaction, referenced to the applicable duty of care owed to plaintiff by the defendant, which may be said to constitute a substantial cause of the events which produced the injury is necessary.

Additionally, the application of the assumption of risk doctrine in assessing the duty of care owed by such a defendant requires that the participant have knowledge of the injury-causing defect, and also appreciation of the resultant risk, which is to be assessed not in a vacuum but against the background of the skill and experience of the particular plaintiff. If the risks of the activity are fully comprehended or perfectly obvious, plaintiff has consented to them and defendant has performed its duty. Also, by engaging in a sport or recreational activity, a participant consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport generally and flow from such participation.

In the instant case, plaintiff never indicated that she could not proceed with the third repetition, she never indicated that she was experiencing any pain radiating from plaintiffs hip down her left leg or anywhere else, before during or after the procedure that resulted in her accident. By consenting to the activity, plaintiff cannot argue that defendant should not have permitted her to do the exercise because of the physical condition of her left hip. [Over the course of her training, plaintiff had had persistent pain down the side of her left leg and radiating pain in her left hip. She had seen many doctors about the problem, but no one could find a reason for it.]

Plaintiff assumed the risks inherent in the Pilates exercise which reasonably include the knowledge that her hands could slip while on the apparatus and that she could get injured, despite the assistance that a spotter might be able to provide...

In the case at bar, plaintiff was undisputably injured by her own actions: her hands slipped; she lost her grip. Plaintiff had performed the exercise a minimum of eight to twelve times prior to the date of her accident. In addition, she had been using the Reformer to perform about ten other exercises on a routine basis. Based on her background, skill level and experience, she was familiar with the piece of equipment and could appreciate the risks associated with her participation.

This court finds that defendant has met its burden establishing entitlement to summary judgment. The application of the primary assumption of risk doctrine to this case warrants the granting of defendant's motion.

Dr. James C. Kozlowski is an Associate Professor in the School of Recreation, Health, and Tourism at George Mason University. He is a licensed attorney who has written and lectured extensively on the legal and legislative aspects of parks and recreation administration in general and the issue of recreational injury liability in particular.

If you have questions about this case study or any other law-related questions, contact Dr. Kozlowski at If your topic is selected to appear in a future column, your name and institution will not be published. Keep in mind that any information in Legal Q&A is general in nature and should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion in a particular situation or jurisdiction. Any such questions should be directed to local counsel.


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