Fruh v. Wellbridge

Weinberg & Garber sued on behalf of the Fruh family in a lawsuit against the health club in which father and husband Herb Fruh had been a member. The basis for the claim was the club’s failure to have an AED available. The case proceeded before Judge Patti Saris in the federal court in Boston.

On April 15, 1999, Herbert Fruh suffered a witnessed cardiac arrest in the locker room of the Wellbridge Fitness Center in Boston. Nine minutes elapsed from the time of the cardiac arrest to the administration of the first shock by an automatic external defibrillator (AED) brought to the scene by Fire Department personnel after the staff dialed 911. Though Mr. Fruh’s heart was finally restored to a normal rhythm, he suffered severe brain damage as a result of oxygen deprivation.

The club had made promises to its members, including Herb Fruh. In its Members Handbook, Wellbridge promised its members that its staff would be “trained to respond in a timely manner to any reasonably foreseeable medical emergency event that threatens the health and safety of club users.” Wellbridge professed to be an industry leader providing medically-based programs, catering largely to middle-aged members.

Also in its Members Handbook, the club had also promised its members that it would comply with published standards of health and safety. In addition to a wealth of published standards from the American Heart Association strongly recommending AEDs in health clubs and elsewhere, the evidence in the case also included a Recommendation of the YMCA of the USA Medical Advisory Committee from November, 1997, endorsing the American Heart Association’s position on the use of AEDs in health clubs and other locales.

There was also evidence of an industry practice of having AEDs, at least in a minority of health clubs. By the spring of 1999, a small but significant minority of clubs had already installed AEDs in their facilities, with a larger percentage planning to do so in the near future. This is discussed in a position paper on defibrillators in health clubs prepared in the fall of 1999 by the International Health and Racquet Sports Association (IHRSA), a large trade group for for-profit health clubs.

In March, 2002, the American Heart Association (AHA) issued a joint recommendation with the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), strongly recommending AEDs, especially for large health clubs.

After extensive discovery, Wellbridge’s attorneys sought summary judgment against the Fruhs, on the grounds that the club had no duty to have an AED. Paul and John filed a Memorandum of Law in Opposition to the Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment and Statement of Facts in Support of the Opposition. In a victory for the Fruhs, Judge Saris denied the motion without opinion.

Virginia and Herb Fruh were recently featured in a program that aired on Fox 25 News in Boston.

Weinberg & Garber contributed information to an article discussing health club/AED litigation. That article appeared in the June, 2004 issue of Trial magazine, a publication of the American Trial Lawyers Association.

The case was resolved shortly before trial in February 2004.