Think Lawsuits Don’t Happen In the Spinning Studio? Think Again…

Yesterday I posted my response to the Only 5 Stretches You Need To Do After Spinning in which I urged instructors and cycling and Spinning studios to take steps to reduce liability, in this case by not performing dangerous stretches on the bike that could be accomplished with a much safer alternative off the bike.

I know there are those who believe I am being alarmist, but wisdom about potential liability and taking steps to mitigate it has always been an important part of being in any service industry, especially group fitness, where we as instructors are pushing participants to exert themselves.

Today I saw this from the Independent in Ireland:

pedal breaks in spin class lawsuit

€15,000 (~$20,000) is not that much money in the scheme of things. Here in the infamously litigious USA, it would have likely been a much larger remuneration.

This stuff happens, and as an industry we should not be scared, but we should endeavor to offer the safest form of cycling possible. In fact, I would argue that indoor cycling is one of THE safest forms of group fitness, with the caveat…if it is taught correctly.

Are there inherent risks that can’t be completely avoided? Absolutely, but it is up to you, and the facility where you work, to mitigate them as much as possible. It’s no different than guaranteeing that all instructors have CPR training, that there is an AED nearby, and all staff are well informed of emergency procedures. That’s not being alarmist, it’s being wise. So is keeping it real with training techniques, maintaining the equipment frequently, and making sure the layout of the cycling studio is safe.

Who knows exactly what happened in the case of that lawsuit in Ireland. It might have been a manufacturer’s defect. It might have been poorly maintained equipment. It might have been a stroke of bad luck. But imagine if that pedal broke while you were doing the “Titanic” stretch described in the previous article! I had a pedal fall off years ago and I was incredibly lucky not to have been injured. Over the years, I’ve heard dozens of stories from instructors around the world of pedals snapping off during a class.

It. Does. Happen!

There are far too many instructors and clubs/studios who either deny that these risks exist in indoor cycling or simply believe that those things “never happen to them.”

Since launching ICA five years ago, I’ve received over a dozen stories about accidents and some lawsuits. The reasons range from negligence, to instructors practicing bad technique or contraindications (including stretching on the bike), to equipment failure, to bad luck, to purely frivolous suits.

More often than not, accidents incurring injuries are quietly settled and swept under the rug, so word doesn’t get out to protect the club/studio. This is why you rarely hear about them.

Share Your Story

I am collecting stories about accidents and injuries in cycling classes to add to the ones I already have so I can show proof when people claim injuries don’t happen or that poor techniques don’t raise the risk of injury.

Have you or your facility ever had an accident in your Spinning/cycling classes? How was it handled? Was there legal action and restitution? Have you had an incident that fortunately turned out OK, but could have been much worse? Did it change the way you taught or change any policies at your facility?

I will share a story that happened at my club about 10 years ago. We used to raise our handlebars to the highest hole to allow the sliders to dry to prevent rust. Members were told to make sure the pop pin clicked. Well…they didn’t always do that. On this particular day, I was just starting class and one guy walked in late. He got on his bike quickly in the back row without checking the handlebars and setting them to his correct level. The previous person had raised them above the minimum mark without securing the pop pin. As he leaned on the bars, they fell off and he pitched forward into the bike in front of him. His temple grazed the back of the seat slider of that bike. He had a small cut about a half inch away from his eye and he bruised his thigh pretty badly. I quickly made sure he was OK, then sent someone to get management. They fixed him up, made him happy (gave him a really cool cap), and he even came back and rode in my class, extremely embarrassed to “have made a scene”!

We averted disaster that day. A half inch to the left and he could have lost an eye and/or broken a nose. I am so very grateful to this day that he was OK. That incident is one of the reasons that I am so aware of potential accidents and injury. After that, we stopped asking members to raise the handlebars.

Please let me know in the comments if you have a story to share. If you prefer to contact me privately and don’t want your name or club mentioned, please send an e-mail to jennifer@indoorcyclingassociation.com. At your request, I will keep it anonymous.

Thanks for helping to improve our industry by bringing to light what everyone needs to hear!


NOTE: While the bike in this article was a StarTrac Spinner, this can and does happen to every brand of bike. I have seen some manufacturers recommend that pedals be replaced once per year. If your facility has very heavy usage, then this is likely a very wise idea!

 

12 Responses to “Think Lawsuits Don’t Happen In the Spinning Studio? Think Again…”

  1. sharon salkeld says:

    My daughter went to her first spinning class 5 minutes before the end of the class the instructor told her he wanted to make it harder and raised the gradient and insisted they stood up. There were no straps to secure her feet she thinks other bikes had them and one of her foot slipped out and the other was left in and bent back. Her instructor then asked her to try and put some weight through her foot thank God she didnt. She has not got a double fracture of her ankle and cant weight bear for at least six weeks . we are thinking of taking legal action as she will not be able to work for at least 3 months.

  2. Lisa says:

    The handle bars flew off 15 minutes after spinning & the instructor locked them in for me. I was thrown off the bike with my feet still in stirrups . Recovering now, knocked out teeth. & tore tendons, bruised all over. Yes I am working with a lawyer. I am a yoga & fitness instructor & know about safety in gyms. Anyone know of other spin cycle accidents?
    Thank you,
    L

  3. Amy Goodrum says:

    a friend was riding a Keiser indoor bike and the handlebars must not have tightened down properly even though she adjusted them–the handlebars flew off the bike while she was standing and clipped in. Fortunately she was not injured.

  4. Laura Gurney says:

    Two situations though that I would mention:
    First, we had someone collapse recently after the cool down and during the off-the-bike stretches. It was a man in our Senior Cycling class. We had to implement our emergency response protocol, and thankfully everything was fine. However, after all the tests were normal, we concluded that he was overheated and probably a little dehydrated. I remember learning in the session in last year’s ICA summit about how older adults have more challenges with thermo-regulation and that they can overheat much more easily than younger adults. The studio that day was warmer than usual due to have two huge classes prior to the senior class which really heated it up in there. It wasn’t over 72, but warmer than usual. It is a good reminder for all of us to make sure we are watching the temperature, encouraging plenty of hydration, and addressing the issue if anyone (especially seniors) expresses concerns about it feeling too warm.

    Secondly, pedal stroke perfection is not only more efficient, but it’s safer. I have a lady who comes regularly, but she really struggles with a smooth pedal stroke. After working with her a long time, we’ve concluded that she is quad-dominant and very tight through her hamstrings. I’ve asked her to work on hamstring strengthening and stretching outside of class. She was doing well in my class, but she attended another instructor’s class a few times who goes very heavy with resistance. Now this lady is having hip issues to the point that she’s has to take a break. :/ I would love feedback about this. Should someone with an imperfect pedal stroke just go light until they can get it smooth? Should they not spin until they can even out the leg strength and flexibility?? I don’t want injuries, and I feel like this one is probably due to her pedal stroke and loading too heavy with this issue at play.

    Thanks so much!!

  5. Laura Gurney says:

    Thank you for this information! I’ve had people’s seats drop too, but thankfully we’ve never had any injuries. It’s rare for us to have seats drop, but it does happen.

    Two situations though that I would mention:
    First, we had someone collapse recently after the cool down and during the off-the-bike stretches. It was a man in our Senior Cycling class. We had to implement our emergency response protocol, and thankfully everything was fine. However, after all the tests were normal, we concluded that he was overheated and probably a little dehydrated. I remember learning in the session in last year’s summit about how older adults have more challenges with thermo-regulation and that they can overheat much more easily than younger adults. The studio that day was warmer than usual due to have two huge classes prior to the senior class which really heated it up in there. It wasn’t over 72, but warmer than usual. It is a good reminder for all of us to make sure we are watching the temperature, encouraging plenty of hydration, and addressing the issue if anyone (especially seniors) expresses concerns about it feeling too warm.

    Secondly, pedal stroke perfection is not only more efficient, but it’s safer. I have a lady who comes regularly, but she really struggles with a smooth pedal stroke. After working with her a long time, we’ve concluded that she is quad-dominant and very tight through her hamstrings. I’ve asked her to work on hamstring strengthening and stretching outside of class. She was doing well in my class, but she attended another instructor’s class a few times who goes very heavy with resistance. Now this lady is having hip issues to the point that she’s has to take a break. :/ I would love feedback about this. Should someone with an imperfect pedal stroke just go light until they can get it smooth? Should they not spin until they can even out the leg strength and flexibility?? I don’t want injuries, and I feel like this one is probably due to her pedal stroke and loading too heavy with this issue at play.

    Thanks so much!!

  6. Brent Laning says:

    I had a cyclist break a bone in her lower leg. She was spinning without enough resistance, and instead of using the brake she tried to stop the rotation with just slowing her legs. The torsion wrenched her ankle to the point where a bone broke in her leg. At first we thought it was just a sprain, so I got her ice and she went home. When the Y called to follow up with her the next day she said it was broken.
    Fortunately, she didn’t file charges. I don’t think she’s been back to a class though.

  7. Biggest issue I see at the club where I teach is seats dropping mid-ride. I always include in my intro “make sure the handle for the height adjust is really cranked down, and sometimes it will start to work itself lose during the ride. If you start to feel something “off” about the bike during your ride, hop off and check the adjuster.”
    I’ve probably seen in the neighborhood of 8-10 seats drop in a period of about 18 months. Thankfully, no reportable injuries…but this kind of concerns me. The health club leases the bikes, I’m concerned they are reaching the end of their service life!

  8. shanni says:

    Years ago my husband brought his best friend (out of shape, diabetic who unbeknownst to me didn’t eat breakfast or take his bp meds that day) to my class. I set him up safely, gave him some guidelines, made sure he stayed hydrated, & all was well, he did great….Until class ended. He didn’t stay close to the bars until his heart rate came down as I instructed. No, he popped up like a jack in the box! And passed out. (We know the physiology there). He was fortunately on a bike that was in the back by the wall & when he fell off the bike, only mildly twisted an ankle & bruised his ego. Still, it was frightening & while the emergency response system at the center was excellent, it rattled my cage for weeks. Needless to say, after we brought him home to his wife, he wasn’t allowed come back to cycling. (Ironically, he really should!). It is impossible to be sure that everyone in class is taking care of themselves properly or following our instructions to stay safe. I did everything my training & instincts told me to do yet his own (unwise) behaviors created a dangerous situation.

  9. Marilyn says:

    Only 1 injury ever in my class: my employer wanted to compete with Soul Cycle (the closest location was an hour away!) so turned my class into weight lifting on the bike. In one class, a daughter accidentally hit her mother’s hand with a small dumbbell. They didn’t even tell me at the time but mom was bruised and unable to ride for a couple weeks!

    FWIW, I went to Soul Cycle once. And ended up in horrible back pain, barely able to move. I do not have any back problems. It was definitely “oblique pushups” while pedaling a bike that caused my injury.

    The only other injury I’ve heard about was similar to that above. A young woman finally convinced her Spin-hating boyfriend to take a cycle class. His bike was not properly set up and the handle bars were not tightened. The first time the class stoody, his handle bars flew off, he was still in the pedals, hit his head and hurt his thigh. He never took another cycle class again.

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