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The Elements of a Negligence Claim

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Paul R. Bedard, EsquirePaul R. Bedard, Esquire

The types of legal claims that can be asserted against a health club are many and varied. There seems to be no limit to the kinds of incidents that can lead to the filing of a claim or lawsuit. A significant portion of these claims involves slip and falls, medical emergencies, injuries sustained on exercise equipment and employment claims. Despite the varied nature of claims filed against health clubs each year, most center on the legal theory of negligence, the failure to use reasonable care resulting in a person's injury or damages. In fact, allegations of negligence are involved in the bulk of all civil cases.

Fundamentally, five elements must be proven for a successful negligence claim: duty, breach of duty, causation, proximate cause and damages. Having a basic understanding of these elements can prove helpful when formulating risk management strategies designed to keep members, guests and employees safe. However, varying laws require specific analysis within each jurisdiction. Therefore, this article is not intended as legal advice. Please consider the following comments as an educational guide and consult an attorney for direction.

  • Duty - From a legal standpoint, health club members and guests are classified as invitees. Invitees are owed a duty of reasonable care, protected from harm caused by reasonably foreseeable risks. Health clubs must therefore warn of risks that are known or should be known by the club, such as slippery floors or malfunctioning equipment. Health clubs must also warn of risks that are unlikely to be seen or avoided. An example may be an uneven floor in a dimly lit hallway required to get to a locker room.
  • Breach of Duty - Once a duty is established, a person asserting a negligence claim must prove that the duty was breached. For a duty to be breached, there must be notice of the dangerous or defective condition or the risk involved. If it can be shown that the health club had knowledge or should have had knowledge of the danger presented, the notice requirement will be satisfied. Dangerous and defective conditions will generally not extend to minor or insignificant defects since the danger or risk involved must present an unreasonable hazard.
  • Causation - The danger or risk involved must have caused the claimed harm. In other words, there must be a direct connection between the actions or lack thereof of the health club and the harm that is being claimed. For example, a claimant's documented lower back injury consistent with the mechanics of the fall involved may demonstrate causation whereas a person claiming an injury that is inconsistent with the underlying fall may fail to establish this element of negligence.

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