Gym company fined over eye injuries
A company executive who was left blind in one eye and partially sighted in the other when a gym session went wrong has suffered "catastrophic injuries", a judge said.
David Lloyd Leisure (DLL), which has already paid victim Mauro Carneiro £1.3 million compensation, was fined £80,000 at Teesside Crown Court after it admitted two breaches of health and safety legislation.
Mr Carneiro, a company vice president, 47, was sitting on a stability ball at the chain's centre in Stockton, Teesside, and using resistance bands attached to a metal pole on an outdoor tennis court.
Under the instruction of his experienced personal trainer Ian Donaldson, 55, Mr Carneiro was using the equipment for the first time on a warm afternoon in June 2013.
After five to 10 minutes the stitching gave way on the attachment and the four resistance bands catapulted a metal "D-ring" into his face.
Stephen Uttley, prosecuting, said: "He knew something serious had happened straight away. He had loss of vision in both eyes."
Mr Carneiro was taken to the James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough, and underwent seven hours of surgery.
He lost the sight in his left eye and has impaired vision in his right after it was "badly damaged", the court heard. He stayed in hospital for 12 days, Mr Uttley said.
Judge Simon Bourne-Arton said: "Mr Carneiro suffered what can only be described as catastrophic injuries.
"Of course the consequences to him have been significant and serious. His vision has been substantially impaired.
"He refers to the fact that he has to proceed with caution, clearly he cannot drive, he suffers from depression and his facial expressions have changed."
Mr Uttley said: "He used to be a person who lived a very active life, full of hard work and fun."
Reading from a victim impact statement, the barrister continued: "Now I have a life of constraints and unpleasant chores created by my handicap."
Mr Carneiro's statement added: "In the past I simply had the best life."
Now he suffers from sickness in the afternoon, and had post-traumatic stress for six months after the accident.
He remains the vice president of a Teesside company "with a considerable number of staff under his control" but he finds problems with dealing with mundane tasks, Mr Uttley said, such as tying his laces or cutting his nails.
Mr Uttley said the victim now harboured suicidal thoughts and "sometimes thought it better to be dead than alive".
Mr Donaldson was using his own resistance bands which he had bought on eBay, the court heard.
He was in court for the sentencing, sitting in the public gallery, along with senior DLL management. Mr Carneiro was not present.
James Ageros QC, defending David Lloyd Leisure, apologised on behalf of the firm to the victim.
Mr Donaldson, who was not a risk-taker, had been deeply affected by the accident, he said.
"He is a very conscientious trainer who would never have dreamed of putting an individual at such risk."
Mr Ageros said David Lloyd Leisure had 91 gyms with 6,000 members of staff, around 1,000 of whom are trainers and it has been going for 32 years.
It has 444,000 members, with 26 million visits per year and a turnover of £200m, the court heard.
It has a virtually unblemished health and safety record in that time, the judge was told.
"That is why I say this court can treat these offences as unusual and exceptional," he said.
The chain admitted failing to ensure people who were not employees were not exposed to risk and a separate charge of failing to make a sufficient assessment of equipment.
It argued it was not aware that members of staff were using their own equipment, upon which a proper risk assessment had not been done.
Judge Bourne-Arton said: "I find it is clear that personal trainers were using their own equipment from time to time, if not frequently, and certainly on a basis DLL should have been aware of."
Since the accident the firm had ensured that only DLL equipment is used, the judge said.
He ordered the firm to pay £16,223 costs.
Stockton Council's Cabinet Member for Housing and Community Safety, Councillor Steve Nelson, said: "All gyms and health clubs have a duty to keep their members safe.
"David Lloyd Leisure Limited did not adhere to this responsibility and as a result Mr Carneiro has suffered life changing injuries so it is only right that they should be handed this hefty fine. It is a tragic case and one that I hope is never repeated."
After the case, a DLL spokeswoman said: "At Teesside Crown Court on Friday May 15th 2015, David Lloyd Leisure Ltd was fined £80,000 after pleading guilty two health and safety offences.
"This followed an unprecedented incident involving a personal training session at our Teesside club in June 2013 that resulted in serious injury to one of our members, Mr Mauro Carneiro.
"David Lloyd Leisure strives at all times to achieve the highest safety standards possible and it is clear that, on this occasion, certain standards were not met, leading to consequences we sincerely regret."
David Lloyd Leisure has paid Mr Carneiro substantial damages in a separate civil claim.
"We have apologised unreservedly to Mr Carneiro and his family, and we wish to reiterate our deepest sympathy," the spokeswoman said.