Today’s fitness clubs, exercise studios, Pilates classes, and yoga centers are our modern day gymnasiums. Dedicated to molding bodies into shape, they’re a refuge from the stress of our daily lives. But they can also be minefields, filled with dead weights, one-ton workout machines, pulleys, steel wires, wet floors, and bacteria-filled mats.
Thousands of people are hurt each year in gyms and exercise classes all across the country. Many injuries result from negligent management and poorly maintained equipment. It seems logical then that gym members would have the right to file insurance claims for injuries due to slip and falls. Unfortunately, that’s not often the case.
To stem the tide of rising insurance claims and lawsuits, most gym owners now require prospective members to sign contracts containing waivers of liability (meaning you can’t hold them accountable). These waivers are legal contracts effectively prohibiting members and their guests from filing any legal action against the gym ownership or management.
These waivers contain additional language that makes them all but ironclad. To have access to exercise equipment, lockers, showers, etc., prospective members must complete and sign several forms. The owners often hide the waiver of liability in between locker assignment forms, key deposit agreements, and rights and responsibilities cautions.
It’s rare for a fitness club employee to bring a prospective member’s attention to the binding effect of the waiver they’re about to sign. It’s even rarer for an employee to understand the terms of the waiver. Attorneys, expert at camouflaging liability issues, write the waivers.
Before you decide to join your local gym, read the waiver of liability. Ask for a copy to take home and study. If possible, review it with a personal injury attorney in New Bedford. The problem is if you don’t sign the waiver, you can’t join the gym. Rarely, if ever, do gyms permit their employees to negotiate liability waivers. They can negotiate prices, but that’s about it.
Gym Insurance Companies
Insurance companies love waivers of liability. They give them the power to just say no to injury claims. Moreover, getting the name of the gym’s insurance company can be tough. In most cases, gyms have no legal obligation to give you their insurance information. Once you sign the membership contract and waiver of liability, you’re pretty much on your own.
Many fitness club employees are impermanent, moving often from one job to another. They’re the last people to depend on if you’re hurt on the gym’s premises. Even long-time employees are helpless when it comes to assisting you with an injury claim. Even if they know gym’s insurance company’s name, you can bet the owner won’t let them tell you.
So what happens if you’re injured due to the gym’s negligence? Where do you turn to seek compensation for things like your medical bills, medications, lost wages, and pain and suffering? How do you secure a gym insurance settlement?
Your Chances in Court
If your damages amount to less than your state’s small claim court limits, you can file a lawsuit there. Unfortunately, the gym’s attorney will file a motion for summary judgment (it asks the judge to rule for them immediately). The attorney’s motion will attach the waiver of liability you signed.
Unless the judge has no clue about the law, he or she will dismiss your case before it even gets to trial. Even if you can find an attorney to file a lawsuit in a higher court, there’s a good chance the gym’s attorney will quickly file a motion for summary judgment and ask for your case to be dismissed.
In some cases, when the gym’s negligence is clear, there’s a chance the gym’s insurance company may pay for your medical bills only. This is a long-shot, but worth a try. The amount will probably be no more than $1,000. Even then, the insurance company will require you to sign a full release of liability and indemnification against any lawsuit you might later think about filing.
Exceptions to the Waiver
There are circumstances when you may be able to get around the waiver of liability…
1) Vague and ambiguous language
In rare cases, judges can find the language in a waiver of liability to be vague and ambiguous. When a judge says this, it paves the way for the member’s insurance lawsuit. When the court sets aside (rejects) a waiver, the probability of an injury settlement greatly increases.
“Vague and ambiguous” means the language in the waiver is so confusing that a prudent (careful) prospective member could not understand its terms. This is a rare, since attorneys for gyms, fitness clubs, exercise centers, yoga and Pilates studios, etc. copy standard language from well-structured waivers that have stood the test of time, passing court muster repeatedly.
2) Gross Negligence
The second exception is gross negligence.If you signed a waiver of liability but believe the gross negligence of the gym or its employees caused your injury, you can maybe pierce the gym’s waiver of liability and succeed with a claim or lawsuit. To do so requires compelling evidence of the gym’s gross negligence.
What if you’re injured and believe the gym was grossly negligent?
If you’re hurt while at the gym, seek medical care immediately. Not only is doing that good for your health, but also if there’s any chance of succeeding with an insurance claim or lawsuit, you must link the grossly negligent act directly to your injury and resulting medical bills.
If your injuries are serious, alert the closest employee or manager of the gym. Ask them to call 911. If your injuries aren’t serious, it’s still vital you report your injury and its cause to management.
Management is normally required to fill out an incident report when members or their guests are injured. Ask for a copy. If the manager gives you one, great. If not, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. Make sure you bring the cause of your injury to the manager’s attention.
Use your cell phone to photograph and video the cause and scene of your injury. If there were any witnesses, ask them to give you their contact information. If there’s time, ask them to write down what they saw. Don’t worry about notaries or sworn affidavits. Their handwritten statements are sufficient.
If you signed a waiver of liability but believe the gym’s gross negligence caused your injury, visit with an experienced New Bedford slip and fall injury attorney. Most don’t charge for an initial office visit. If your attorney agrees with you, maybe she can have the waiver of liability set aside. Doing so may pave the way to a fair insurance settlement.