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The increased use of home gyms means that many people have exercise equipment of some sort in their homes, such as weight machines, treadmills or elliptical machines. These machines symbolize work for adults, but they just as easily symbolize play for children. The First District Appellate Court of Illinois recently considered, for the first time in this state, whether a homeowner could be held liable for injuries a visiting child sustained due to playing on the machine.

In that case, a ten-year-old girl was visiting the home of a friend whose parents owned a treadmill. While playing on the treadmill, the girl suffered a severe injury to her right hand when she fell while going at a high rate of speed and could not turn off the machine.

Generally, homeowners must warn visitors of any potentially dangerous conditions they are aware of in and around the home. However, the dangers of some injuries, such as those from fire, water or heights, are considered so obvious that even very young children can appreciate them. If a danger is very obvious, the homeowners might avoid liability for failing to warn someone about the danger. In cases involving children, the main factor that determines liability is whether the injury to the child was foreseeable. The test is whether a typical child, although old enough to be without constant supervision, lacks the maturity to understand and appreciate the risks of their actions, and could foreseeably get hurt.

The court determined that it could not make a blanket assessment that exercise equipment poses an obvious danger of injury. The court stated that even if a treadmill posed an obvious danger to a child, it would still consider the factors traditionally examined in negligence cases to determine whether the homeowners were liable. These factors include the reasonable likelihood and foreseeability of an injury; whether the steps a homeowner could take to prevent the injury would be overly burdensome to them; and the consequences of placing that burden on the homeowner. In sum, the court concluded that exercise equipment is not an obvious danger that would negate liability.

The issues of whether a particular risk are open and obvious or may lead to liability are determined by the court by review of prior legal precedent. Where an issue has not yet been decided in a particular state, the court can look to the decisions of other states for guidance.

The lesson is this: While children may consider exercise equipment a plaything, it can pose a considerable risk of injury to them. As such, homeowners should always guard against children’s unauthorized or unsupervised use of such equipment. If you have questions about what duties you owe to visitors to your home, contact your attorney to discuss your concerns.

This article is intended to present general information for educational purposes, is not legal advice and should not be relied upon in connection with any particular matter. The reader is advised to immediately retain their own separate legal counsel with respect to any specific legal issue. Rights to bring a claim will expire through the passage of time by the applicable statute of limitations.