Law Review: Yoga instructor sued by student
September 19, 2018
Lots of my friends regularly attend yoga classes. (I go to the gym — old school.) So when I came by a new California case where a student sued her yoga instructor, I knew we had to feature it in the Law Review.
On Oct. 11, 2014, Amalia Webster attended a yoga class at Claremont Yoga taught by Kurt Bumiller. According to Webster, Bumiller injured her by placing a belt around her waist and right leg to help her position her right leg over her left, and he also pushed down on her lower back while she was in a "cow position," which hurt Webster's knee.
As if that was not enough, Webster claims that while she was lying on her back, Bumiller twisted her neck to both sides three times causing pain. Here's the hitch, at least one of them: at no point did Webster tell Bumiller she was in pain or ask him to stop what he was doing.
That's tip No. 1 to you yoga fans: Speak up. Yell "Uncle."
'YOGA HAS MANY METHODS'
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Webster sued Claremont Yoga and Bumiller for negligence: falling below the standard of care for yoga instructors. She argued that there is no standard of care for practicers of yoga, just "many methods and … means by which one may be a practitioner of yoga." That's helpful.
Bumiller presented declarations in court from two experts who opined that Webster's injuries were not "a traumatic injury or acute injury" occurring during class. Also stating that it was "quite common for yoga teachers to touch students during class and assist them when they are improperly doing yoga instruction positions. Further, yoga instructors often adjust students and help them stretch during certain poses."
One doctor said "the majority of yoga students desire the touching and assistance with poses described." And then the obvious, "an instructor would not know the student was unhappy or felt any pain unless the student so advised the instructor." (See Tip No. 1)
Tip No. 2 to disgruntled yoga students: Have experts introduce declarations of their opinions into evidence. If you don't, you will likely lose your lawsuit — should you be so inclined.
The trial court found Webster failed to present evidence that Bumiller had breached the standard of care or had caused her injuries, and in fact she presented no expert testimony to buttress her claims. Wow. Too much peace, love and brown rice for Webster.
The Court of Appeal agreed, concluding that merely submitting medical records into evidence without an expert's declaration that the instructor caused her injuries or was negligent was not adequate.
I'm not encouraging yoga students to sue their instructors, far from it.
But if you feel you need to do so, at least do it right.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim's practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOA's, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.portersimon.com.
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