Many of us in our never ending quest for physical fitness and good health, join gyms, health clubs or fitness studios and whether you belong to a franchised health club, or a locally owned studio, you can expect to sign a waiver upon your first class or signing up for a membership.
So what rights are you signing away when you sign that gym waiver? The short and simple answer is that you are releasing the health club from injuries that could occur from reasonable and ordinary risks associated with a health club. That leads to the question, “what are the ordinary risk associated with gym membership?”
This issue was recently addressed by the Illinois Appellate Court in the case of Hawkins vs Capital Fitness. Mr. Hawkins was a member of his local gym and suffered injury when he was struck on the head by a 3×8 foot mirror which was knocked off the wall by a fellow gym member. He filed a suit in a Cook County Circuit Court alleging that Capital Fitness was negligent in failing to properly secure the mirror to the wall at its Logan Square Xsport Fitness location.
Given that the scope of an exculpatory clause depends on the foreseeability of a specific danger, should Hawkins have seen the mirror as a potential danger within the normal risks of utilizing a health club?
The gym filed for dismissal based on the terms of the exculpatory clause which Mr. Hawkins signed when he joined. In October of 2013, the trial judge granted summary judgement for the gym enforcing the exculpatory clause. However in March of 2015, the appellate court reversed this decision finding that a question of fact existed whether the mirror-falling incident was an ordinary risk associated with the use of a fitness facility or constituted a harm not reasonably foreseeable with a health club membership.
A similar situation may occur when you attend sporting events such as baseball games, basketball games, and NASCAR races.It is important to read the fine print on the back of your tickets to understand what rights you are waiving.
Stay tuned for our next blog where we’ll discuss other contexts where you may encounter exculpatory clauses such as while hiking, zip-lining, para-sailing, or boating while on vacation. Know what rights you are waiving when you buy that ticket.