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April 2021

Partner Ryan Dempsey and Senior Counsel Jason Scott Win Defense Verdict Following Four Day Bench Trial in Southern District of New York

Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani New York Partner Ryan Dempsey and Senior Counsel Jason Scott successfully obtained a defense verdict following a four-day bench trial in the United States District Court, Southern District of New York, on behalf of the firm’s client, a prominent health club. 

The plaintiff, who was 54 years of age at the time, allegedly sustained a significant right shoulder injury while engaging in a personal training session at the health club facility.  The plaintiff alleged that she was following the instructions of her personal trainer, who purportedly left her unsupervised, and attempting a new exercise – a core diagonal crossover – that involved lifting a heavy weight overhead, when she felt a pop in her right shoulder.  The plaintiff’s theory of liability against the health club was that the personal trainer was negligent insofar as he failed to properly supervise plaintiff during this new exercise, and that the health club facility breached its duty to provide a reasonably safe and controlled exercise environment.  As a result of the alleged incident, plaintiff underwent arthroscopic surgery to her right shoulder – a subacromial decompression and arthroplasty – to repair a rotator cuff tear and torn right biceps. The plaintiff further alleged that she developed complex regional pain syndrome (reflex sympathetic dystrophy) post-surgically, and missed a substantial amount of time from work.  The plaintiff’s settlement demand prior to trial was $750,000.

At trial, Dempsey and Scott were able to establish that the plaintiff’s negligence action was barred by New York’s primary assumption of risk doctrine.  During cross-examination at trial, Dempsey was able to get plaintiff to admit that “any strenuous athletic or physical activity involves certain risks,” and that there are heightened risks associated with the “use of a health club and fitness equipment.” Dempsey was also able to establish at trial, that plaintiff was cognizant of the elevated risk of injury while engaging in weight training, even when conducted under the supervision of a personal trainer, and that she nonetheless voluntarily consented to and assumed such risk.  Dempsey and Scott were also successful in establishing numerous inconsistencies between plaintiff’s trial testimony and the version of events she presented at her pre-trial deposition.

After the bench trial was concluded, the District Judge issued findings of fact and conclusions of law, which determined that plaintiff failed to meet her burden of proof and, therefore, that she was not entitled to any relief on her negligence claim.  The plaintiff’s husband was similarly not entitled to relief on his loss of consortium claim, and Judgment was entered in favor of the firm’s client.

Ryan E. Dempsey
Jason C. Scott