Fitness Studios: In the Crosshairs? It Pays to Be Prepared.

Posted: October 21, 2016    |   Cathy Wetherell

target-picLike it or not, your fitness studio is a target for cardiac arrest related litigation. In fact, 50% of lawsuits tracked by CardioReady involve fitness clubs. With just over a third of these lawsuits resolved in favor of the defendant and an average verdict / settlement of $1.2M, the price tag for neglecting this risk is a high one.

Is this fair? Probably not. It is a common perception that more cardiac arrest events occur in gyms than any other public facing venues. But, is this really true? Let’s look at the data…

Per CardioReady statistics, average annual site incident rates in the fitness sector run 10%-15% – that means for every 100 fitness clubs, there are 10-15 cardiac arrest incidents each year. Interestingly, in the retail and hospitality sectors, the comparable incident rate is 5%-10%. So, on the surface it appears that an incident is more likely to occur in a fitness location.

However, just looking at these site-level incident rates omits a major factor – there are a lot more shopping malls, restaurants and hotels nationwide than there are gyms. Adding this fact to the analysis drastically changes the equation, and NEMSIS (National EMS Information System) data shows that Sudden Cardiac Arrest is 3 times more likely at a “commercial” location than a recreation/sports venue.

A common refrain from our fitness clients is that they see a spike in cardiac arrests during the “New Year’s Resolution season” when gym visits increase (you know…when you can’t get on your favorite elliptical machine or get a bike in your morning spin class). However, this phenomenon is not exclusive to fitness clubs, as NEMSIS stats also reveal a similar peak in January regardless of sector.

So, given these statistics, why is the fitness industry a target for cardiac arrest litigation? I believe there are (among other factors), two main reasons:

    1. Statutory Requirements: The fitness industry lags only dental offices and schools in terms of the number of states that explicitly require AEDs for fitness operators.
    2. Common Law Duty of Care Obligations: Both the perception (accurate or not) of higher risk at fitness sites as well as high public expectations of finding AEDs in fitness sites create a higher level of exposure.

fitness-studios-target-blog-finalPer Harris Interactive, 7 in 10 consumers expect to find an AED in their Fitness Club.

Only Airports have higher expectation levels





With a bullseye on your back, how can you protect your club? First, it helps to understand what drives these claims. We found the following to be the more prominent claimed causes of loss in the cases that we reviewed:

  • No AED Available (65% of cases)
  • Inappropriate Emergency Response (65% of cases)
  • Lack of Training (37% of cases)

Obviously, the first point (and the need to properly maintain the AED) is self-evident, but simply having an AED is not enough if no one knows to bring it to the victim’s side. This then dovetails with the two succeeding points.

Proper response is largely a function of good communication and proper education. It is crucial to ensure that ALL of your employees understand the parameters of your AED program, that there is a plan in place that is easy for them to follow in an emergency, and that they receive regular reminders to reinforce the importance of both.

Equally, it is imperative that an appropriate number of people are trained in AED/CPR use. Historically, in high-turnover environments like fitness clubs, the finances and logistics associated with training have been particular bugaboos. This no longer needs to be the case.

With recent endorsements from expert bodies like the AHA, regulatory changes such as California’s September removal of the requirement for in-person manikin testing, as well as further clinical data supporting its efficacy, an online training format presents a better option than ever. In addition to facilitating the ability to train more people, an online approach also makes it practical to train people more often – an important tool in preventing an “inappropriate emergency response” as research proves a major drop in content retention after 3 to 6 months. Throw in the added benefit of being more in sync with how people (particularly younger ones) learn in this day and age, both the retention and attention problems of the historical approach can be overcome.

So, it’s 8 PM on a Sunday night, and your gym is relatively quiet. There a few folks on the treadmills; some in the free weight area and a Zumba class is finishing up. Then..Help! We need help!

Are you prepared? If you have not already done so, it’s time to put a little Kevlar under your bullseye. Preparation weighs ounces, but regret weighs tons.


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