Smith Machine Lawsuit Ends with $14.4 Million Decision

A lawsuit involving Flex Equipment Co. Inc. and Gold's Gym has ended in a jury awarding the plaintiff $14.4 million. The jury determined that the plaintiff in the case, Harold Leon Bostick, was injured while doing squats on a Flex Smith machine at a Venice, CA, Gold's Gym in January 2001. The weight-lifting bar on the machine crushed Bostick's spine. He is now a quadriplegic.

Gold's Gym settled out of court with the plaintiff for $7.3 million prior to the jury's decision. Because Gold's Gym has already agreed to pay $7.3 million of the $14.4 million award, Flex Equipment is responsible for paying the remaining $7.1 million.

Smith, Chapman & Campbell, the Santa Ana, CA, law firm that handled the case for Bostick, plans to appeal the offset amount required of Flex Equipment. Flex Equipment's insurance company will make a decision this fall about whether to appeal the decision, said Mark Nalley, president of Flex Equipment.

The Flex Smith machine in question was equipped with a “dynamic stop” in addition to a “dead stop,” said Nalley. Many manufacturers producing Smith machines only incorporate a dynamic stop, while some also have an “adjustable stop,” he said. Adjustable stops allow users to determine the stopping point for the weights.

However, independent studies have shown that adjustable stops were largely not deployed, and in fact, in some instances, had been removed by clubs, Nalley said. For that reason, Flex Equipment incorporated a “dead stop” in its machine.

Nalley says the 21-inch height of the dead stop is sufficient to prevent injury. However, Steve Smith, principal at Smith, Chapman & Campbell, said that the height of the dead stop on the Flex Smith machine was too low at 21 inches. Instead, he said that experts that testified in the case said a stop should be no lower than 28 inches.

“There are all kinds of Smith machines out there that are dangerous,” Smith said. “Machines without adjustable safety stops are inherently dangerous. There is no reason a bar should go below a 28-inch height. It's not just Flex Smith machines.”

Smith suggested that club owners with Flex Smith machines contact Flex Equipment to change the dead stop to 28 inches off the ground and ensure that all other Smith machines currently on their premises or purchased in the future have stops of 28 inches.

The original award was $16.3 million, but the jury decreased that amount by 10 percent due to Bostick's negligence, although the jury did not state what they saw as Bostick's negligence. However, Nalley said that the case involved a lifter who attempted to lift too much weight. As a result, his quadriceps tore, which caused him to fall, resulting in paralysis, Nalley contended.

“The effect of this decision impacts the entire industry,” Nalley said about the lawsuit. “Unfortunately, this is another case and point that our society and legal system refuses to hold individuals responsible for their poor choices and/or actions.”

Smith advises gym owners to take responsibility for overseeing the safety of their equipment rather than relying solely on manufacturers to inspect equipment.

“As an owner, they are required to know what is safe for their users and users expect them to have more knowledge in that area than the user has,” said Smith.