With winter singing its swan song, many people are flocking to the gym to start getting into shape for summer. What should you know before you sign on the dotted line? Just about every health club contract contains a waiver and release clause somewhere in its terms and conditions. But are those provisions, which seek to prevent the health club member from suing the health club if they are injured actually enforceable?
The short answer is that courts will generally uphold the waiver and release agreement depending upon certain conditions such as the voluntary nature of the participants actions and whether or not the waiver clause was clear and unambiguous.
For example, an Illinois Appellate Court upheld a waiver and release clause in a fitness club's membership agreement which sought to prevent an injured member from seeking any damages in court. In this case the gym member was seriously injured while using the machine at the club. As a result of the injuries the member is now a quadriplegic.
The member who filed suit against the health club alleged that the club was negligent in its supervision of members. Specifically, the member/plaintiff alleged that the health club failed to properly instruct the members on how to use particular pieces of equipment.
The health club defended the case by arguing that the plaintiff signed a waiver and release agreement which barred him from recovering damages for his personal injuries.
At the trial level, the court dismissed the plaintiff's lawsuit on the grounds that he had signed a waiver and release agreement. The plaintiff appealed the decision on the grounds that the clause was invalid because it was confusing and did not contain clear language. Additionally, the plaintiff argued that the health club never explained the impact of the waiver and release agreement to him at the time he signed the agreement.
The Appellate Court held that in general, waiver and release agreements are valid unless they lacks clarity or purport to release a party from liability from intentional torts or willful or wanton recklessness. Further, the court stated that the plaintiff had voluntarily entered into the agreement with the fitness club and concluded that the language in the waiver and release clause was clear and unambiguous.
WHAT THIS MEANS TO YOU
When you sign a health club or any other agreement that contains a waiver and release clause you should be aware that the clause may be enforceable and prevent you from recovering damages if you are injured. In the case discussed above the plaintiff suffered life-changing and serious injuries. Despite his disastrous injuries the court still upheld the waiver and release clause.
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