Many of us join gyms and physical fitness centers as part of a healthy lifestyle choice. What happens, however, if you get injured at a gym and it was due to the negligence of the facility but you signed a waiver absolving them of responsibility? It’s a thorny question.
Most health clubs (in fact, probably all) have new members sign a waiver (also called an “exculpatory agreement” or a “contract of adhesion”). These waivers act as a condition of membership and say that you cannot sue them or their employees for any reason or for any injury you may sustain while using the fitness center.
The legal reasoning behind such documents is that you assume the risk of getting injured because of the real potential of getting hurt in a gym and exercise setting. If you hurt yourself stretching or by not using the equipment properly, it is because of some action you took that caused the injury. The gym wasn’t negligent or careless. This is called “assumption of the risk.”
However, there are some instances in which the courts found a fitness facility guilty of negligence. I know this may surprise you, but it’s all in the fine print!
The fine print of waivers of liability
The language used in a waiver of liability is sometimes intentionally broad. In such instances, the lack of specifics can make it difficult to sue a health club for an injury. Such terms as “willingly assume” may make you responsible for all risks associated with use of the equipment or exercising. Some fine print may include the following:
- Assuming responsibility for falls, sprains, strains, broken bones, and even death
- Assuming responsibility for injury or death due to the ordinary negligence of other gym members
- Assuming the risk of injury or death due to defects in equipment
- Assuming the risk of any injury caused by the negligence of the facility or its employees
Do such waivers of liability cover everything?
Waivers of liability cannot cover everything. If you get injured as a result of an employee’s, other member’s, or the facility’s intentional or reckless behavior, the waiver will probably not hold up in a court of law. After all, you didn’t sign up at a fitness center expecting to be physically assaulted or intentionally hurt in some other way.
In such instances, the waiver may not stand up in court. In addition, the courts frequently do not like language that is overly broad, and the judge may find something unfair, too complicated, unclear, or insufficient in the waiver. And…if the fine print is too small detailing important information, the waiver may not be upheld.
If you’ve been seriously injured at a health club, gym or fitness center, and you aren’t sure what to do since you did sign a waiver of liability, give me a call to discuss the situation. Don’t automatically assume that just because you did sign the waiver that you have no recourse. You just might.
Stay fit, stay healthy, and stay safe out there!
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