The matter of Aquila v. Ultimate Fitness, 2011 WL 2611820 (Conn. Super. June 15, 2011) arose from tragic circumstances – the death of a member who suffered a heart attack while in the club’s locker room.
The executrix of the deceased’s estate brought suit against the club, alleging that the club was negligent for not having a defibrillator and employees trained to use it. The club moved for Summary Judgment (essentially asking the judge to rule in its favor before trial) on the grounds that it did not have a duty to provide a defibrillator or warn members of the lack thereof. The Court, however, denied the club’s motion. Significantly, the Court noted that the plaintiff’s expert witness testified in his deposition that cardiac events are foreseeable and the lack of a defibrillator is a breach of the standard of care for a health club:
[The expert] stated that the failure of the defendant to have [a defibrillator] on their premises was a deviation of the standard of care applicable to private health and fitness clubs, that the occurrence of adverse cardiac events is entirely foreseeable given that those with known and unknown cardiac conditions use such facilities for the purpose of vigorous physical activity and that the failure to have [a defibrillator] and staff trained in its use was a substantial factor in the decedent’s death.
The testimony of the plaintiff’s expert doesn’t prove the plaintiff’s case on its own. The defendant likely has a rebuttal expert and the jury will still have to find that the club’s lack of a defibrillator was the legal cause of the member’s death. Nevertheless, the case will be allowed to proceed to the jury unless the parties reach a settlement, which is likely.
Based upon this decision and the testimony of the plaintiff’s expert, health clubs must seriously consider acquiring a defibrillator and training its employees on its use. From a risk management perspective, it would be wise, not to mention the fact that it might save a life.