Health Club Patron Suffers Heat Stroke After Prolonged Sauna Session

    Health Club Management Expert

    This case concerns a young, healthy male health club member who was seriously injured in the sauna after a workout. The deceased was an avid exerciser and regularly attended the health club in question. After a high-intensity workout, the deceased decided to enter the sauna, which was not his usual routine. Because the club member visited the health club at an off-peak hour, he was in the sauna for approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes before he was found unconscious by a member of the club’s janitorial staff. When the emergency medical technicians arrived, they placed the club member’s body temperature in excess of 108 degrees. The club member was taken to the hospital and it was determined that he suffered a heat stroke as well as burns over 60% of his body. The man remains permanently disabled from critical brain damage. An expert in health club management was sought to discuss safety standards for monitoring recreational sauna use.

    Question(s) For Expert Witness

    • "1. Please describe your background in managing facilities with saunas.
    • 2. Is it standard for a sauna in a gym facility to have either a timer and/or periodic human monitoring by health club personnel?
    • 3. What methods do sauna facilities employ to ensure that if a person falls asleep or suffers a medical event in a sauna they are not then subjected indefinitely to the high sauna temperatures?
    • 4. Have you ever reviewed a similar case? If yes, please elaborate.
    • 5. Have you been sued or arrested? If so, please explain."

    Expert Witness Response E-133563

    I have worked in the design, start-up, management, and operations of high end health and fitness clubs for over 30 years. For this case, the actual locker room needs to be examined to see what is spelled out in all signage (i.e. recommended usage time, use at own risk, etc.) in that locker room and next to that particular sauna. I’m also wondering if the inside of the sauna is visible from the outside and if there are any windows. Another thing that needs to be considered in this case is what the club rules and regulations and membership agreement say in reference to the use of the sauna. Normal club practice for the safety of sauna users, unfortunately, heavily depends on the type of fitness clubs. High volume, low-cost budget clubs such as the one in question tends to have minimal staffing and no one inspecting the sauna on a regular basis.

    That being said, at the higher end clubs that I have managed (with higher price points and lower volume), we always overstaff and all of our saunas had some sort of timers. There were two different types of timers. One was a timer that came on in the morning and shut off at night; at that club we had housekeeping staff checking the locker room every hour. The other timer was one that went on for 45 minutes at a time and then shut off.

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