You decide it’s time to get back in shape so you decide to join one of the local gyms in the area. You happen to join one of the big name fitness clubs and sign all the papers that the put in front of you on your first day. While working out one day, the machine you are using malfunctions causing you to sustain a severe bodily injury. The gym staff apologizes to you and admits that the machine was not working properly because they failed to maintain it properly or take it out of service. You subsequently contact an attorney believing that you have a personal injury claim for the economic and non-economic damages you suffered because the gym employees admitted that they were negligent and at fault for your injuries. However, after reviewing the contract you signed when you joined the gym, the attorney tells you that you have no case because of a “release of liability” clause contained in the contract.
This is an all too frequent occurrence. Many fitness facilities require you to sign a several page contract that they rush through with you asking you to simply initial and sign in designated spots. Many of these contracts contain a “release of liability” clause that is written in legalese and difficult to understand. Some only advise you of the risks inherent in the physical activity and indicate that the facility is not responsible for injuries that occur as a result of those risks. However, some clauses go much further and include language that releases the club and its employees from liability for their own negligent acts and omissions. The New Jersey Supreme Court has, unfortunately, upheld the use of these exculpatory clauses in fitness club contracts allowing clubs to shield themselves from claims arising out of their own negligent acts and omissions. This means that it is possible that you could sustain a serious injury while using a defective piece of equipment that was negligently maintained by the gym and you are prevented from recovering damages.
To make sure your rights are fully protected, it is important that you read any paperwork that a fitness club requires you to sign in order to become a member. If their paperwork has a clause relieving them of liability for their own negligence you should seriously consider the ramifications of that clause before joining the gym and possibly look to join a gym that is not seeking to shrink its responsibility to provide you with a safe environment to exercise. If you have been injured by the negligence of the facility or its employees and see a release of liability clause in the contract, don’t automatically think that you have no claim. The enforceability of the clause will depend on the specific language used in the contract.