The 25kg weight that cost a gym $500k
A woman who injured her back putting away a 25kg weight at her Western Sydney gym has been awarded more than $500,000 in compensation.
Jacqueline Powell, 42, was a member of New Dimensions Health and Fitness Centre at Leonay when she hurt herself trying to lift the disc weight, which had been left on the floor, back onto a rack in February 2016.
On Thursday the mother-of-three was awarded $551,000 in the NSW District Court after a judge found the gym was negligent in leaving weights "strewn and scattered on the floor by previous users earlier that day".
Judge Leonard Levy SC said that the gym had "negligently permitted the heavy weight plate" to remain on the floor in the weights area "in circumstances of hazardous mess and untidiness", meaning Ms Powell had to tidy it up.
"Had reasonable care been taken by the defendant, she would not have been injured," he said.
Lawyers have warned the judgment means gyms will need to ensure heavy weights are put away, or else they could be sued.
Maurice Blackburn principal Dimi Ioannou said the case had put gym owners "on notice". "This is a really important decision," she said.
"Gym owners and operators have a responsibility to make sure they keep the place safe for their members, and a safe environment at all times."
The court heard that Ms Powell, who has worked at Kingswood private boys school St Dominic's for 23 years, joined the gym in 2012.
On the day she was injured, she saw the gym equipment had been left "strewn untidily on the floor" following the popular "tradies" hour. There were at least two weight bars and at least six disc weights or plates.
The court heard Ms Powell picked up the heaviest 25kg plate using a "load-bearing lift" before doing a "lateral twisting or rotation movement" to put on the rack.
She then felt "an immense and intense pain" in her lower back.
At first she thought it was just a strain but medical tests later revealed she had suffered a L4/5 disc protrusion which has so far required four surgeries and still causes pain, making it hard to "get through the day", the court was told.
Judge Levy said a "determinative distinguishing feature" was that Ms Powell had not been engaging in a sport or recreational activity" but was preparing to carry it out.
He rejected the gym's argument that Ms Powell was 50 per cent responsible because she should have asked staff for assistance.
Lawyers for the gym also submitted video of Ms Powell gathered by private investigators, which included her carrying shopping at the supermarket.
They argued that this showed she had "exaggerated the extent of her injury and disabilities" but an orthopaedic surgeon giving expert evidence dismissed this.
Judge Levy said the total of $551,097.62 was reached by assessing her economic loss, out-of-pocket expenses, future treatment expenses and future domestic assistance.
Originally published as Court orders gym to pay woman $550k