An Iona swim team member alleged that she was injured when the defendant, her teammate, dropped a weight bar and injured her. The women lifted weights two times a week for strength conditioning. The defendant was performing step-ups on a platform with her back to the plaintiff, who was doing pushups. The defendant had a weight bar on her shoulders while doing the step-ups. The defendant lost her balance and dropped the weight bar, which rolled and hit the plaintiff in the head. The women had been advised by their coach to drop the weights if they were too heavy, or if they lost their balance.
1. Does the plaintiff have a cause of action?
2. If so, for what? And against whom?
3. What defenses can be asserted?
Although we cannot be sure what sort of claims someone might try to raise in a lawsuit and what kinds of claims a jury might “buy,” I would argue that the swimmer who was hit by the weights would probably have a cause of action against the coaches for negligence and might be able to include the other swimmer in the suit. However, the defendant(s) in the suit would be able to use the defense of contributory/comparative negligence.
Negligence occurs when one person fails to act as carefully as a reasonable person would act in a given circumstance. In order for a person to be found liable for negligence, that person must have a legal duty to care for another, have breached that duty, and actual harm happened to the other person because of the breach. For the purposes of this answer, I will assume that the swimmer who was hit by the weights suffered actual harm.
In this case, the coach would be the most likely target of a lawsuit. The coach ordered the swimmers to lift weights. The coach told them to drop the weights if they needed to. The coach presumably is supposed to supervise any official team practices. The coach clearly had a duty to care, might have breached that by setting up the exercise session in a dangerous way, and the swimmer was hurt by the result of that potential breach.
I can imagine suing the other swimmer, though this is less likely to succeed unless there are more facts to this case. If the swimmer who dropped the weights was acting recklessly, they would probably have breached their duty to care. However, if they just had an accident that could happen to anyone, there would be no cause of action.
The most likely defense here is comparative negligence. This is the doctrine that holds that a victim can be partly liable for the harm that comes to them if they were not careful enough to avoid harm. In this case, I would wonder why the plaintiff was doing pushups so near to a person who was lifting weights. If the plaintiff chose to do pushups in that spot (rather than being ordered to do so by the coach) they are probably partially liable for their injury because they should have known better than to get that close to someone who was performing a possibly dangerous weight-lifting exercise.