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Gym Member Awarded $5.375M After Preventable Incident in Sauna

Many health clubs offer a steam room for members who want to experience the benefits of muscle recovery after a strenuous workout — this was no exception for a Chicago, IL fitness center. However, unbeknownst to the gym’s visitors, the steam head in the sauna was improperly placed and dangerously low to the ground. That put gymgoers at risk of serious harm. A small business owner in his late 40s visited the gym each morning before work. Part of his routine included resting in the steam room post-workout. Unfortunately, one morning in the gym’s dangerous steam room changed his life forever. He was found unconscious with severe burns from the lowly placed steam head, and later required surgical amputations.

The man was rushed to the hospital where he underwent several surgeries to address his scalded legs and feet. He awoke days after the incident with no memory of what had happened. Unfortunately, the burns were so severe that surgeons had no choice but to amputate all his toes. After he recovered from surgery, the patient learned that he’d likely need more surgical procedures in the future, including additional amputations.

Nearly two weeks after the accident, personal injury attorneys Matthew Passen and Jordan Powell of Passen & Powell visited the victim at the hospital and began to work on his case. First and foremost, the duo needed to figure out how the accident happened. The Plaintiff remembered nothing after he entered the sauna that day. Matt and Jordan inspected the steam room and pored through the manufacturer’s safety manual. They learned that the safety guidelines specified that the steam head needed to be installed 18 inches above the ground. However, the gym installed the steam head only six inches high.

Matt and Jordan gathered a team for trial. They hired experts across disciplines to help explain the accident. Burn surgeons, prosthetic consultants, and orthopedic doctors detailed the severity of the Plaintiff’s injuries and the future surgeries he’d require. On the technical side, a steam industry engineer, well-versed in scald injuries, demonstrated how proper steam head placement could have prevented the burn injuries entirely. Matt and Jordan knew it was essential to show a potential jury what the experts described. They approached DK Global with their ideas for an animated video that presented the vast difference between the steam head heights and their outcomes.

The video began with a depiction of the steam room’s interior before panning to the steam head itself. Red lines highlighted the difference between the valve’s actual height of six inches and the appropriate, safe height of 18 inches. A diagram appeared on screen to indicate the steam’s temperature as it came out of the steam head. Then, the video showed the Plaintiff passed out on the steam room floor, his feet directly beneath the steam head. A closer look at the Plaintiff’s feet alongside the steam temperature diagram revealed the severity of his burns. Lastly, the visual displayed an alternative outcome: it showed an animation of the Plaintiff lying unconscious on the ground, his feet under a steam head at the appropriate height, free of any burns. Had the health center followed the manufacturer’s safety instructions when installing the steam head, the Plaintiff would have walked away unharmed.

In the first mediation, Jordan and Matt learned that the Defense didn’t take their case seriously. However, upon seeing the animation, the mediator and the Defense were visibly stunned. Consequently, after the second mediation, the duo was optimistic that they would be able to settle. Ultimately, they resolved the case for $5,375,000 in favor of their client.

Jordan Powell is a personal injury attorney and partner at Passen & Powell, a Chicago-based law firm that handles serious injury and wrongful death cases. He is an active member of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association and a peer reviewer for the American Association of Justice Trial Magazine. He was voted a “Top 40 Under 40” attorney by the National Trial Lawyers Association. Jordan is an active member of his community and works as a mentor for the Solo & Small Practice Incubator program at Chicago-Kent College of Law and the Chicago Bar Association.

Matthew Passen is an attorney and partner at Passen & Powell, where he primarily handles serious personal injury and wrongful death cases. He has attained a number of seven- and eight-figure settlements for his clients and has been included on several, “Top 40 Lawyers Under 40” lists. In 2022, Matt was elected as a Fellow of the prestigious Litigation Counsel of America. In his free time, Matt enjoys spending time with his family and playing hockey with his son.

"There's no doubt that this animation was so powerful that it pushed the case over the edge to get the defendants to adequately realize the risk if we went to trial, and offer the necessary money that it took to get the case resolved."
Jordan Powell - Passen & Powell
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