Treadmill Accidents Spark Widespread Litigation
By David Carnes, staff writer
Although more than 50 million Americans now use treadmills, the danger of these machines was largely ignored by the public until relatively recently when two high-profile deaths captured public attention. In 2009 Mile Tyson’s 4-year-old daughter Exodus Tyson died a day after being choked by a home treadmill electrical cord. Six years later Dave Goldberg, husband of a top Facebook executive, was found dead of brain damage in a Mexican hotel gym in an apparent treadmill accident.
USA Today reported that in 2012, 460,000 people were injured on treadmills resulting in tens of thousands of hospitalizations and deaths. Treadmill accidents have triggered a steady stream of lawsuits over the last few years. In 2013, for example, a woman sued a California fitness center when she fell from a treadmill and was injured after an employee failed to warn her that the machine was malfunctioning. This case is similar to a 2010 lawsuit filed by a woman against Scheels All Sports in Iowa City, Iowa because her daughter was injured in a fall in the retail outlet while using a treadmill that reached a speed she was unable to cope with. Not all treadmill lawsuits re successful, however. In 2006 an Indiana appeals court overturned a $9 million verdict in aa treadmill accident case because of irregularities in the trial procedure.
The major causes of treadmill accidents include:
Defects in the design of the treadmill (such as lack of a “kill” switch that shuts off the machine when the user falls)
Negligent supervision of inexperienced users by retail staff and fitness club attendants
Common injuries include hand and head injuries, broken bones caused by falls, and choking injuries caused by electrical cords. Major risk factors include allowing children to play around or use treadmills unsupervised, and distractions such as using a cell phone and a treadmill at the same time. Design and manufacturing defects can make the use of a treadmill unsafe, however, no matter how much care is taken.
Too often, mass producers of consumer products operate with a cold logic when making the decision on whether or not to recall a dangerous product or put it on the market in the first place – multiply the number of probable lawsuits by the size of the average damages award. If this amount is less than the cost of a recall or the profit lost by declining to launch the product, the company imply ignores the dangers of the product and pays litigation damages as a cost of doing business. One way to change this logic is to simply make it more expensive to refuse to recall a dangerous product. Legislative reform should make it easier for plaintiffs injured by defective treadmills or negligent staff to seek punitive damages in addition to the compensatory damages that are normally awarded. Another way to put teeth into the law would be to seek criminal prosecution of the responsible parties, instead of settling for monetary damages alone.