Philadelphia associate Jason Landro recently obtained a complete defense verdict for a major health club after a two-day bench trial in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas (recently recognized by the American Tort Reform Foundation as one of the top-eight “judicial hellholes” of 2017–2018). The plaintiff, an international dragon boat racer and former college basketball player with a 40-inch vertical leap, broke his wrist when he fell while performing box jumps, an advanced plyometric exercise, during a personal training session.
The plaintiff contended that he was performing “progression jumps” with two plyometric boxes when he fell. In contrast, the plaintiff’s personal trainer and another trainer who witnessed the accident testified that the plaintiff was performing the jumps with only one box. All parties agreed that the box tipped when the plaintiff fell. However, the two trainers testified that the plaintiff landed improperly on his heels on the far edge of the box, while the plaintiff testified he landed properly with both feet in the center.
The plaintiff alleged that health club was vicariously liable for the negligence of its trainer. The plaintiff contended the trainer, whom the plaintiff did not sue, was negligent because the trainer instructed the plaintiff to use improper equipment for the exercise and because the trainer failed to warn the plaintiff of the fact that the second box was (purportedly) unstable.
During the cross examination of the plaintiff, Landro was able to establish that the plaintiff’s recollection of how the accident occurred was inconsistent with the box tipping forward and showed that he did not land properly on the center of the second box. Landro was able to further establish during cross-examination that the box that tipped appeared to be stable before the plaintiff performed the exercise. Among other witnesses, the defense called Dr. Shawn Arent, Professor of Exercise Science at Rutgers University, who opined that the plaintiff was capable of performing either exercise in question and that the personal trainer complied with all applicable industry standards relating to the instructions he gave and the equipment he had the plaintiff use. The plaintiff was unable to refute Dr. Arent’s testimony.
The plaintiff’s initial demand was approximately $100,000 based upon his contention that he could no longer row competitively. After the completion of closing arguments, the judge deliberated for less than fifteen minutes and returned a complete defense verdict. To boot, the judge concluded that the plaintiff had only been using one box at the time of the accident, implicitly finding that the defendant’s version of events was more credible than the plaintiff’s version.