CrossFit Legal Gets a DNF
There were reports around September 23, 2016 of CrossFit losing a personal injury case in Missouri.
The reports, which look very similar, have been pulled down but still reside in Google Cache here, and here. Fortunately, the plaintiff's legal team got their own press release out today and they probably won't take it down because we are guessing they are not afraid of CrossFit's legal team right now. The ruling was reported to be against both CrossFit Inc. and its affiliate gym Sky's Limit Fitness of Kansas City, which goes by the name Sky's Limit Crossfit.
Then, on September 25, 2016, CrossFit published this piece: Missouri Jury Rules Against CrossFit in Personal Injury Lawsuit which stood alone for a little while there.
So, we wondered what was getting Angrytown all stirred up. The reports and the release tell the same story: Jonas Barrish was a person who had belonged to gyms for much of his life but admits to not having ever been much of an athlete. He has never played any organized sports beyond elementary school and was one of any number of people looking to generally get fit. He became attracted to CrossFit because the people he knew who did CrossFit looked good.
He started CrossFit, by his own admission, in January 2012. At the time, he had never done any Olympic lifting or powerlifting, and had never attempted a deadlift. In June 2012 he was injured attempting a 1RM deadlift of 350 lbs. Before this attempt, Barrish had done deadlifts but had never tried for a max. There is a dispute about whether the coach instructed him to try for a 1RM or do another workout. But according to Barrish and his lawyer, Rob Sullivan of Sullivan Law in Kansas City, Missouri, Barrish was instructed to do a 1RM deadlift because he had missed the class when everyone else had done it.
Because Barrish was doing a different strength exercise than the rest of the class, the coach was not paying attention to what he was doing. Barrish eventually loaded the bar to 350 pounds. During the attempt to deadlift it, he felt something snap in his back and collapsed. He ended up in surgery two days later with an extruded disc at L5 S1 with cauda equina syndrome.
Sullivan says, “At trial when he testified and in my opening and closing statements he took responsibility for his part in the lift and I asked the jury to assign some fault to him, which they did; however, it doesn't seem right that all the fault should go on the person performing the lift when they are part of a program and class that is monitored and instructed by a coach.”
Sullivan and his wife are both Ironman enthusiasts - he is training for a 100 mile ultra-marathon. He says, “Preparing for these sports involves some pretty extreme conditioning, but we are aware of that and accept the risks involved because that is what is required for us to do the sport that we want to do.” He continues, “The problem with CrossFit is that it is marketed as a program for everyone, even grandmas, yet it is certainly extreme conditioning. There is no practical reason why someone like my client, a 36 year-old real estate agent, would need to be attempting a max weight deadlift.”
According to Sullivan, Barrish never signed a waiver when he joined the gym and he was never informed of any of the risks associated with heavy Olympic lifting and powerlifting movements. As for the coaching Barrish received, Sullivan says, “After only a two day training course and payment of $3000 a year for use of the CrossFit name, anyone can open an affiliate CrossFit.
Once opened, CrossFit Inc. does nothing to ensure that the programming or operation of the affiliate gym meets any standards whatsoever. They do not conduct any oversight nor do they have any official inspections. They simply collect $3000 a year and allow the gyms to use the name CrossFit, all the while marketing to the public that it is for everyone. While the company denies that the program encourages heavy lifting and poor form, what they make publicly available contradicts this.”
Sullivan refers to the following video to back up his claim saying, “Mr. Castro is performing a deadlift with perhaps the worst possible form and in a way that, quite frankly, he's lucky to get through without serious injury. Yet, at the end of the lift, he is high-fived and congratulated. This is a video that was posted, and I assume still is posted on the CrossFit Journal. It is simply irresponsible to put that kind of example from a high-level employee of CrossFit Inc. on the Internet when you claim to value good form and proper technique.”
CrossFit, in turn, has responded to the results of the jury trial with the following:
Judge John Torrance, who presided over the trial, was vulgar and rude to all attorneys— plaintiff and defense—and seemed to be more interested in getting home rather than presiding over the case. He allowed evidence to be admitted despite our motions in limine and objections, and continually complained about the fact that we were ruining the vacation day that he had scheduled for Friday. He rushed most arguments, belittled all counsel and witnesses and complained constantly. Judge Torrence was more interested in rushing things along than logically ruling objections in accordance with the Missouri laws of evidence.
And if Judge Torrance wasn’t a bad enough presiding officer of the court, the jury gets it, too:
Judge John Torrance appears, from my own experience in the courtroom, to be completely unfit to serve. His desire to speed along the case and berate all of the parties involved was clearly transmitted to the jury, who chose expediency and compromise over justice.
Sullivan, unsurprised by the reaction, says, ”What you are seeing now in CrossFit's article, is its typical response to any criticism whether it be by a jury, or journalist or any other organization, and that is to attack the critic. Not with facts, not with good lawyering and a good defense, but with personal attacks that completely divert attention from the true issue at hand and are riddled with false accounts of what actually happened at trial.”
If you look up CrossFit’s Risk Retention Group, which is an insurance group formed by CrossFit to provide liability insurance and defense for its affiliates, the stated is approach is not to settle. In Missouri, which is known as a comparative fault state, the percentages of fault are divided up between plaintiff and defendants. In any one defendant is more than 50% at fault, they are responsible for the entire amount of the verdict. If less than 50% then they are responsible for their percentage. In this case, the total reward was $400,000. Sullivan, who is a well-known local personal injury lawyer, told us that Missouri is a difficult state to try a case unless you can ensure 0% fault assessed to you. He always believed that this was unrealistic in this case, but wasn’t surprised by the outcome because he felt that CrossFit was going to go to trial regardless of the consequences.
Due process: It sucks sometimes for some people but what can you do, it's what makes America great.