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Local Litigation: CrossFit vs The Ohio State University

Miriam Bowers Abbott Miriam Bowers Abbott Local Litigation: CrossFit vs The Ohio State UniversityMitch Potterf — Photo by Walker Evans.
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It’s not every day that a local lawsuit makes the pages of Retraction Watch, Slate, USA Today and Bloomberg Business.

But the lawsuit between CrossFit affiliate Fit Club’s Mitch Potterf and The Ohio State University has been getting a lot of attention in the press… that also includes a mention by 60 Minutes. The lawsuit claims that Ohio State researchers falsified data in a study, to create the impression that CrossFit activities create injuries.

And now it looks like the case is nearing resolution.

The 2013 study was originally published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Although the findings were generally favorable towards CrossFit as a means of fitness, the authors claimed that sixteen percent of the study’s participants dropped out of the project due to overuse or injury. In making that claim, the researchers implied that participants in CrossFit run a high risk of getting hurt.

According to the plaintiffs, no one dropped out due to injury. Moreover, because of the trial’s design, researchers would not have had access to such personal information about the participants.

In a post dated September 11, 2015. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research published an Erratum. Curiously, the statement was unexpected by the plaintiffs. They heard about it ten days after it was posted, via social media.

“We contacted them, but we have heard nothing back,” said Attorney Ken Donchatz. “We think the Erratum itself is inaccurate in that it says two people were injured.”

He continued, “OSU has had the opportunity to depose and cross-examine each of the 11 athletes who did not complete the study. Each of then testified under oath that they were not injured due to the activity or from participation in CrossFit. So, even the Erratum still contains some false data.”

The attorney went on to explain that there are actually two lawsuits stemming from the study. One is against Ohio State in the Court of Claims. The other is against National Strength and Conditioning Association and the publishing journal. The latter is in the Court of Common Pleas.

The deposition with Ohio State researcher Steven Devor indicated other troubling features of the study. At one point during the project, Devor requested that the plaintiff write a check in his name and send it to his home residence for use of OSU facilities. Additionally, the deposition indicates that an Institutional Review Board form (a means of university oversight and approval) for this specific project was not completed.

While the case has not yet been settled, the Erratum may be a sign of things to come.

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