Roger writing the LAWmag
27
Aug 2013

Bikram Yoga Sued - Yogi Alleges Teacher Caused Serious Injury

If it takes one to know one, there is something about Bikram yoga that tends to appeal to lawyers. One well-known legal blog recently spoke about it in another context but now there is a new twist, one which was, arguably, inevitable, and, certainly litigious.

Que sera, sera-ed?

Legal Papers

The first act was a Notice of Civil Claim, statement of claim as it were, filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia on April 17, 2012.

The first order of business here is to caution non-lawyers that allegations of fact made in legal documents filed in court have little if any value until the case has been heard and disposed of by either a jury or a judge.

"It Will Hurt Like Hell"©

Still, especially for many of those that have experienced Bikram hot yoga, these facts present themselves almost as inevitable, with apologies to the many diehard Bikram employees and fans who would present apologetic statements to the contrary such as: "ultimately, every participant is responsible for his or her actions in 'the room'".

Bikram push like hell © magann - Fotolia.comConceivably, Exhibit #1 will be the actual dialogue used by the teachers. Assuming it has not been amended from the 2013 version, it will speak for itself.

However, the claim is not grounded in the overall, or even a specific Bikram exultation. The claim is grounded on a so-called corrective measure implemented in class by an instructor.

The Courtroom

So we go back to the courtroom, that being the Supreme Court of British Columbia, Vancouver registry, Action S-12 2702. Ms Amanda Jones is suing a local Bikram yoga studio described as "Desiderata Services Inc., doing business as Bikram Yoga at 105-5300 No. 3 Road, Richmond BC". This is a beautiful Bikram studio, right in the middle of a large shopping mall (Lansdowne Park Shopping Center in Richmond).

Presumably, because the plaintiff does not know the name of her actual teacher on that one fateful day, she has also sued the proverbial "Jane Doe", amendments to follow upon discovery.

Ms Jones says she is a lifeguard and fitness instructor. On April 29, 2010, while she was in the middle of a Bikram yoga class, Jane Doe came over and manipulated her right leg causing injury to Ms Jones' right hip and leg so serious that even two years later, she not only was feeling the pain, she was obvious he talking to lawyers. Of the 26 postures Bikram is known for, we don't which posture was allegedly corrected

Both "Ms Doe" and the Bikram studio fired back in legal papers filed on July 10, 2012 naming the instructor "Jane Doe" as Ms Barb Towell and, in a standard denial, denied that the injury occurred as described and of course, putting upon the plaintiff, the full onus of proving that (as the plaintiff is anyway in any negligence claim).

According to the Richmond Bikram Yoga website1, Ms Towell is also a professional mezzo soprano with the Vancouver Opera.

What the statement of defense (which, in British Columbia is called a Response to Civil Claim) does admit is that there was some communication between Towell and Jones during the class but it did not include any form of physical manipulation. It was instructions given to the student as to how to properly execute the yoga pose. The chase for witnesses must be on. Who was near or next to Ms Jones on that day and what did she or he see?

Nor, the studio went on in the Response to Civil Claim, did Ms Jones complain that she was in any kind of pain or discomfort either at the time of the advice or after the class.

Using the time-honored better to be safe than sorry strategy, the defendant Bikram studio also suggested that if fitness instructor Ms Jones hurt herself, it is because of her own negligence. For example, "attending the class when she was stiff", "failing to properly warm up", and" attempting to manipulate … to too great a degree when she knew or ought to of known it would be unsafe to do so".

This is the real interesting part because during the 90-minute Bikram yoga session which is done at 106°F, the dialogue, which never changes, often encourages the participants to exert themselves up to and including their pain threshold. One of the phrases is even that the posture "will hurt like hell".

We're not doctors - just lawyers - but we suggest that judicial notice can be taken of the fact that pain, by any definition, is the body's way of saying "no thank you" ... "get me the hell out of here".

And yet the Bikram dialogue, solidly copyrighted by the owner, an eccentric American, ex-pat Indian, by the name of Choudry Bikram, is chock-full of push-push-push exultations to a room full of participants of which the teacher or leader has no idea of the varying degrees of flexibility or athleticism.

The matter has been set down for trial in Vancouver starting on October 27, 2014, and is expected to last five days.

Unless it settles before trial, often done confidentially, this will be one trial which will attract the attention of Bikram yoga enthusiasts everywhere. Bikram groupies, of which there are legion, likely see the claim as frivolous or outrageous but many who Bikram yoga may relate to the injury especially in the context of the incessant exultations to keep a posture in spite of pain.

Negligence by Who?

Yoga, including Bikram, is by design, made to benefit the body by postures and breathing.

If someone gets hurt during the practice of it, and from a lawyer's perspective, it comes down to one of two things. Either the injured party did not take enough care and attention, or the classroom studio did something wrong which caused or materially contributed to the injury.

This personal injury case like so many others will come down to the evidence of witnesses and the opinions of medical experts. One thing is an almost sure thing and that is unless the judge has done Bikram yoga for herself or himself (many have), her/his eyebrows will probably twitch when he/she is made aware of the aggressive dialogue of Bikram yoga.

Whether it is aggressive or irresponsible, if not determined by the Supreme Court of British Columbia in Jones v. Bikram Richmond, is litigation just waiting to happen.

REFERENCES:

  • NOTE 1: Introducing Barb Towell, as posted at http://bikramyogarichmond.ca/blog/2012/07/introducing-barb-towell/ on August 30, 2013.

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