A Jackson County jury has found CrossFit Inc., the purveyor of widely popular and sometimes extreme workout regimens, partially at fault for a Kansas City man’s back injuries, apparently the company’s first courtroom loss.
Jonas Barrish badly damaged a disc in his spine while lifting 350 pounds at the Sky’s Limit CrossFit gym in Kansas City, his attorney, Rob Sullivan, said. Barrish needed emergency surgery to avoid lifelong complications.
The jury returned a verdict for $400,000 in damages in favor of Barrish but also held him 50 percent at fault for his own suffering.
Jurors in Jackson County Circuit Court held the local gym owner, Sky’s Limit LLC, 25 percent at fault for the damages. The jury found CrossFit Inc. at fault for the other 25 percent. The verdict, which a CrossFit spokesman said the company plans to appeal, puts each company on the hook for $100,000 in damages to Barrish.
An attorney for Sky’s Limit did not provide a comment.
“This is the first time ever that the national company has had fault assigned to them, even if the local gym lost in other cases,” Sullivan said.
He said he searched other cases and found only two in which CrossFit headed to trial, and neither ended with a claim standing against the company. Sullivan has a second case against the company that involves a St. Louis area woman.
Russell Berger, a spokesman for California-based CrossFit, said the company would appeal the verdict in a blog post about the case that CrossFit linked to from its Twitter account.
Berger had been called as a witness in the Kansas City case and defended the company and its practices. His blog post said Barrish had ignored the gym coach’s instruction to stop lifting after completing a 300 pound lift.
“There was zero evidence of any negligence on the part of either entity (CrossFit or Sky’s Limit), and overwhelming evidence that the plaintiff was personally responsible for his injury,” Berger wrote.
He blamed the outcome on the judge’s handling of the case and the jury’s eagerness to go home.
CrossFit’s brand has spread across the world through thousands of affiliates. The company’s website counts more than 6,700 U.S. affiliates, including 27 in the Kansas City area.
CrossFit fans take part in sometimes intense workouts, usually called a WOD for workout of the day.
Fitness publications have written about the most brutal programs, beginner programs and “killer” programs as well as the notion that these sometimes wildly named routines — Pukie Brewster, Beast 12, Fatal Forty, Painstorm XIX, Dirty Thirty, Annie Are You OK? — aren’t as dangerous as they may seem.
The company’s Twitter account includes photos and videos of CrossFit workouts, including a 63-year-old grandmother lifting 200 pounds.
One CrossFit Beginner’s Guide presented in court said “your grandma could and should be working out with us.” CrossFit fans also tout their workouts on social media, sometimes with painful looking outcomes.
One photo posted on Instagram shows several marks on the back of a woman’s leg and the post explains “358 double unders is pretty much just me whipping myself over and over #CrossFit #NoPainNoGain”
Double unders are a jump-rope technique in which the jumper turns the rope fast enough to circle around twice on each jump.
Sullivan accepted the Jackson County jury’s finding that Barrish was partly at fault for the $400,000 in damages he suffered but said he was only 10 percent at fault.
Sullivan argued that CrossFit’s fault stemmed from its training and manuals, not because the workout programs can be extreme.
“I do some extreme stuff, but not much weightlifting,” the attorney said. “I’m getting ready to run 100 miles a week from Saturday.”
Sullivan said he plans to take part in a run from Cassoday, Kan., that extends 50 miles out and 50 miles back and covers 6,000 feet of climb through the Flint Hills.
CrossFit, Sullivan said, fails to ensure that people who work out in its affiliate gyms know enough about the risks they’re taking. He said training manuals showed no instance in which gym owners were trained about injuries and risks with power lifting and Olympic elements of the programs.
One key to winning the case, Sullivan said, was that neither CrossFit nor Sky’s Limit was able to produce an injury waiver form signed by his client. Such forms are routine and waive a customer’s potential claims against a gym for injuries that may occur.
Sullivan said the gym’s unsigned form presented in court also provided an opening for his case. It did not specifically waive any claims of negligence.