L.A. Fitness International, LLC. v. Mayer, 4D06-3038.

Citation980 So.2d 550
Decision Date23 April 2008
Docket NumberNo. 4D06-3038.,4D06-3038.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Florida (US)
PartiesL.A. FITNESS INTERNATIONAL, LLC, a Foreign Limited Liability Corporation d/b/a as L.A. Fitness Sports Clubs, and L.A. Fitness — Florida, Inc., a Florida corporation d/b/a L.A. Fitness Sports Clubs, Appellants, v. Julianna Tringali MAYER as Personal Representative of the Estate of Alessio Tringali, Deceased, Appellee.

Scott A. Cole of Cole Scott & Kissane, P.A., Miami, for appellants.

Robert C. Buschel, Russell S. Adler and Jenessa M. Stearns of Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler, Fort Lauderdale, for appellee.

TAYLOR, J.

Alessio Tringali died as a result of a cardiac arrest he suffered while using a stepping machine at L.A. Fitness in Oakland Park, Florida. His daughter, as personal representative of his estate, filed a wrongful death action against L.A. Fitness. She alleged that L.A. Fitness breached its duty to use reasonable care for the safety of the deceased, including the duty to render aid during a medical emergency. Specifically, the plaintiff asserted that L.A. Fitness: (1) failed to properly screen the deceased's health condition at or about the time he joined the health club; (2) failed to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to him; (3) failed to have an automatic external defibrillator (AED) on its premises and to use it on the deceased; and (4) failed to properly train its employees and agents for handling medical emergencies. In this appeal from a judgment entered on a jury verdict for the estate, L.A. Fitness contends that it satisfied its duty to render assistance to the deceased as a matter of law when it promptly summoned professional medical assistance for him. We agree and reverse.

Background

Robert Strayer, an L.A. Fitness sales representative, testified that he was sitting at his desk at the Oakland Park L.A. Fitness around 9 p.m. on April 3, 2003 when he heard someone call for help. Strayer got up from his desk, told the receptionist to call 911, and ran to the back of the gym. Strayer observed Alessio Tringali lying on his back surrounded by L.A. Fitness patrons. According to Strayer, Tringali was bleeding from a cut on his head and shaking from small convulsions; his face was red, and yellow foam was coming from his mouth. Strayer, who was certified in CPR, believed Tringali was having a seizure or a stroke. He knelt down beside Tringali to assess his condition. Strayer first touched Tringali to determine if he was responsive. He then checked his left wrist and felt a faint pulse, which to him indicated a heartbeat. He also noted the red color of Tringali's face and concluded that Tringali had an oxygen supply. He did not, however, put his face next to Tringali to feel if he was breathing. Because Strayer believed Tringali had fallen off a nearby stepping machine and may have sustained a concussion to his head or hurt his neck or back, he did not perform a "chin tilt" to open his airway, which is one of the first steps in CPR. Based on his observations and belief that Tringali was having a seizure or stroke, Strayer decided not to attempt CPR and possibly make matters worse. He testified that Tringali had just begun to turn blue when the paramedics arrived. He estimated that paramedics arrived within three to four minutes of the first cry for help.

Peter Bailey, the general manager of L.A. Fitness, was also at the facility that evening. He testified that he was sitting in the same area as Strayer and, when he heard a call for help, pointed to the front desk and instructed the receptionist to call 911. He told Strayer to stay with Tringali while he ran to the front of the facility to make sure the 911 call was placed. Bailey talked to the 911 operator, who asked him whether Tringali was breathing. He responded that he did not know and ran back to the scene to ask Strayer. Strayer told him that Tringali was, indeed, breathing. Bailey relayed this information to the 911 operator. Bailey estimated that four to six minutes elapsed between the time he heard the call for help and the paramedics arrived.

Three members of the facility provided testimony regarding their observations of the scene. George Basantes, a gym patron, testified that he saw Tringali fall from the stair climber and land on his back. He described Tringali as "gasping" for air. He said that the deceased turned blue within five minutes of collapsing. According to Basantes, no one administered CPR or attempted to get Tringali's vital signs. Instead, bystanders just encouraged him to breathe. Basantes testified on cross-examination that the L.A. Fitness employees merely sat and stared at the deceased. He estimated that ten to twelve minutes passed between the time Tringali collapsed and the paramedics arrived.

Gym patron Paul Orszulak observed Tringali stumble backward, fall off the machine, and land on his back and head. He shouted for help and ran over to Tringali. Orszulak testified that Tringali was not moving, although he appeared to be breathing. According to Orszulak, three to five minutes elapsed from the time Bailey left the scene to the time the paramedics arrived.

Gym patron Jeffrey Criswell testified to noticing Tringali lying on the ground by the stepping machines and seeing Bailey run to the scene and signal his staff to call 911. Criswell estimated that only two to four minutes elapsed between the time Bailey called 911 and the paramedics arrived.

Connie Wagaman, an EMT for the City of Oakland Park Fire Rescue, testified that she responded to L.A. Fitness with two other EMT's. Wagaman testified that Fire Rescue received a call from Fitness at 9:18 p.m., and that they arrived at Fitness at 9:21 p.m. Wagaman observed Tringali lying on his back with his head in someone's lap. Tringali was not breathing and did not have a pulse. EMS attached a valve mask with oxygen, performed CPR, and used a defibrillator to treat Tringali. Wagaman testified that EMS used CPR protocol to treat Tringali. Wagaman stated that EMS shocked the defendant at 9:21 p.m. and then again at 9:24 p.m. but were unable to re-establish a pulse.

Dr. Steven Van Camp, a cardiologist with a special interest in the hazards of exercise, was plaintiff's medical expert. Dr. Van Camp testified that the deceased's cause of death was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. In Dr. Van Camp's opinion, Tringali's condition was treatable with defibrillation; however, if defibrillation was not possible, CPR could have been "used to increase the likelihood the [later] defibrillation would be successful and to preserve brain function." Dr. Van Camp explained that "CPR does not correct ventricular fibrillation by itself, but what it does, it prolongs the time for which effective defibrillation can be ... administered." Dr. Van Camp testified that although EMS responded very quickly, the shocks administered were not effective because CPR had not been timely and effectively administered.

Dr. Van Camp testified that the witnesses' accounts suggested that the deceased was not breathing. He noted Strayer's testimony that he did not see Tringali's chest rising and falling and Basantes' testimony that the deceased was blue and "gasping" for air. Dr. Van Camp explained that Tringali would not have turned blue if he had been breathing effectively. Although another gym patron testified that Tringali had "some chest activity," Dr. Van Camp believed that the patron described "agonal" or end-of-life breathing. However, Dr. Van Camp admitted on cross-examination that it is difficult for a lay person to distinguish "regular" breathing from "agonal" breathing if he has not been trained in CPR.

In Dr. Van Camp's opinion, if CPR had been administered before paramedics arrived, even in the absence of defibrillation by L.A. Fitness employees, there is a seventy-five percent or greater chance that Tringali would have been successfully resuscitated. Moreover, Tringali likely would have survived for twenty or twenty-five more years.

Dr. Max Harry Weil, a cardiologist, agreed that CPR extends the time in which defibrillation can be successfully administered. Dr. Weil testified that "if the defibrillator isn't immediately available, you give yourself a chance to extend the time window over which the defibrillator might be effective [by using CPR]. Put another way, that very sharp quoted three-minute interval is then extended to four, five or six [minutes]." Dr. Weil agreed that, more likely than not, Tringali would have been revived by paramedics if he had been given CPR by Fitness employees. He also concurred with Dr. Van Camp that a lay person could easily confuse gasping with breathing and shaking of the head, as observed by Strayer, with seizures.

Anthony Abbott, Ph.D., testified that Strayer was negligent by failing to follow CPR protocol and perform CPR on Tringali. Abbott, an exercise physiologist and president of Fitness Institute International, testified about the health club industry's standards of care in April 2003 and their recommendations for cardiac safety at such facilities. Abbott testified that L.A. Fitness violated the industry's standards of care by failing to have a written emergency plan and to employ qualified personnel for handling emergencies. He said that the standards promulgated by the industry's authorities, including the International Health and Racquet Sports Club Association (IHRSCA) and the American College of Sports Medicine, are directed at responding to cardiopulomonary emergencies because "when people exercise there's a radically increased chance of having a cardiovascular incident because of the increased stress that comes with exercise." Abbott testified that Fitness' plan was inadequate; an emergency plan "is designed to assign various roles to individuals and how they carry those roles out."

In addition to a written emergency plan, in 2003 IHRSCA required facilities to have qualified persons on duty. In Abbott's opinion, L.A. Fitness...

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