Duty of care not breached and the wrist is history

12 March 2019

The ACT Supreme Court has found that a plaintiff’s injury during an “aerial sling” exercise class was not the result of negligence by employees of the defendant company, iSpin.

In Issue

  • Whether iSpin breached its duty of care to the Plaintiff by failing to give her proper instructions, not directing her to use a “spotter”, not suggesting she use a thick crash mat during an exercise class

The Background

On 11 February 2014, Carrie-Anne Cornwall (the plaintiff) was participating in a sling class, where participants take part in exercises using a fabric sling which is attached to the ceiling alongside a pole. When the plaintiff was performing a particular manoeuvre, she fell to the ground, breaking both of her wrists. The plaintiff commenced proceedings against Sophie Jenkins as trustee for the iSpin Family Trust (the Defendant) who ran the fitness class and occupied the premises..

The Decision at Trial

The plaintiff had been attending classes for approximately a year. She claimed that in her year of attendance, she had only ever been offered a thin yoga mat as opposed to a thicker crash mat that provides greater protection in the event of a fall. The plaintiff also stated that she had never seen anyone use a “spotter” to assist with manoeuvres using the sling. She also alleged that the instructor told the students to let go of the carabiner at the top of the sling whilst performing the manoeuvre.

The instructor gave evidence on behalf of the defendant. Her recollection was that the plaintiff had performed the move on an occasion prior to the incident, and that she was spotting someone else while the incident occurred. Records supported the fact that the plaintiff had previously been taught the particular move. The nature of it, and the sling’s material made it difficult to successfully complete the manoeuvre without a spotter helping place the student’s foot back into the sling. The defendant gave evidence to a similar effect.

Students were specifically told to not let go of the carabiner and to use spotters when performing this exercise, as supported by a contemporaneous email sent by the instructor to the defendant an hour and a half after the incident. Both thick and thin mats were provided, and students could choose to use either. In this instance, the plaintiff chose to use the thinner mat.

The court found that the defendant had not breached its duty of care to the plaintiff. Having regard to the contemporaneous email of the instructor and the nature of the manoeuvre, the court considered it likely that the direction was given to use a spotter. Whilst it was accepted that the instructor did not expressly prohibit students from attempting manoeuvres without a spotter or check that everyone was using one, a reasonable person in her position would assume that the class would not act contrary to her instructions and would be wary of harm occurring.

It was held that although there was a foreseeable risk of harm, and a finding that the risk of harm was not insignificant, the plaintiff could not establish that the defendant did not take reasonable precautions by not, for example, ensuring that spotters were used, or requiring the use of thicker mats.

Implications for you

The case is yet another reminder of the importance of the facts and how they can impact on the ultimate outcome. This case turned on its own facts, and in this instance, the failure to establish the mechanics of the fall, issues of witness credibility as well as a lack of evidence substantiating the counter factual, (i.e. what would have occurred if certain warnings were given or precautions were taken), posed significant issues for the plaintiff.

Cornwall v Jenkins (as Trustee for the iSpin Family Trust) [2019] ACTSC 34

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