With New Year's resolutioneers rushing to sign up for gym memberships, liability waivers will likely be included in every membership agreement.
These memberships are contracts, which are enforceable regardless of whether you read them. But the liability waiver isn't always airtight.
What does this liability waiver mean and how can it affect potential injuries at the gym?
Gym Membership Agreements
Membership agreements are contracts, but the piece of paper you're actually filling out and signing when going to the gym is actually an invitation for an offer. When you sign the agreement, you're technically making the gym an offer -- using their terms and conditions -- which the gym easily accepts. Why wouldn't they? They wrote the thing.
Legally, the offeror (you) is the master of your offer, so you have a choice whether to include any of the terms or conditions of the membership agreement -- including the liability waiver. Just like a contract for a job offer, you can scratch out or change things to your liking and then hand it over the gym to see if they sign.
Smaller community gyms might be more receptive to the idea of letting you negotiate a gym membership, but the big chains like Gold's Gym, 24 Hour Fitness, or Bally Total Fitness will probably see any changes to the form contract as a no-go.
So let's assume that you do sign a membership "contract" with the boilerplate liability waiver. What does it mean?
Enforcing a Liability Waiver
In general, gym liability waivers prevent you from suing the gym in the event that you hurt yourself while exercising there. These waivers are typically enforceable, but keep an eye out for:
- A total waiver of liability. Any liability waiver that bars all liability for any injury that occurs at the gym is overly broad and unenforceable.
- A waiver of liability for intentional/reckless acts. Most courts consider it against public policy (unconscionable) to enforce liability waivers that release the gym for responsibility due to intentional or reckless conduct by its members or representatives.
- A waiver for negligence. An enforceable waiver will bar a gym member for suing for injuries due to the gym and its employees' own negligence.
This means a gym member is likely to be out of luck if a carelessly racked weight falls and breaks the member's toe. However, if it was done intentionally or with gross negligence, the waiver might not mean squat.
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