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Fitness Club Liability Waiver Form Found to be Unenforceable

By on November 21, 2018 in Liability with 0 Comments

Plaintiff Kyung Pak was injured while participating in the fitness class at the defendant NJ Fitness Factory’s fitness center. She had signed a waiver form, in which she waived any liability claims she had against the fitness club. The issue in Pak v. NJ Fitness Factory, Inc., 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 916 (App. Div. April 19, 2018), was whether the waiver she signed was enforceable so as to bar her personal injury claim against the fitness club.

The plaintiff was participating in an exercise class when she was injured when she stepped onto a running treadmill. The fitness club would keep their treadmills running after use but they contained no visual markings to alert users that the machine was running. A fitness club employee directed plaintiff to step onto a running treadmill. Plaintiff did not realize it was running and was thrown off. She fractured her neck, which required surgery.

The plaintiff had signed a broadly worded liability waiver form in which she waived “any and all claims [she] may have … against [the fitness club] in connection with or arising out of [her] participation with [the fitness program].” Further she agreed to “release, indemnify, and hold harmless … [the fitness club] … from all liability for any personal injury … [she] might sustain during this [fitness] program.”

The defendant fitness club argued that the waiver signed by the plaintiff relieved it from liability and her lawsuit should be dismissed. The defendant relied on the New Jersey Supreme Court case of Stelluti v. Casapenn Enterprises, LLC, 203 N.J. 286 (2010), which generally upheld the validity of a waiver of liability form for a health club for the use of its equipment.

The trial court found that the fitness club’s waiver form was valid and dismissed the case. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the waiver form was different than the one the Supreme Court upheld in Stelluti. She contended that it should be unenforceable because it did not have language in which plaintiff agreed to engage in activities at her own risk and did not release the fitness club from liability for injuries caused from the use of fitness equipment.

The Appellate Division noted that the duty owed by a business owner to its patrons is “to guard against any dangerous conditions that the owner knows about or should have discovered; and to conduct reasonable inspections to discover latent conditions.” Exculpatory clauses, such as an agreement in which a patron would waive any liability claims against a business, are historically “disfavored” and have been “subjected to close judicial scrutiny.”

Essentially, the Court found that this agreement was too broad in its release of all claims and, thus, unenforceable. It ruled that this waiver form was unenforceable for several reasons. First, it adversely affected the public interest by transferring the redress of civil wrongs from the business owner to an innocent third party. Second, it eviscerated the duty of care that the fitness center owed to its patrons (its invitees). And, third, it was unconscionable, in that it attempted to shield itself from all liability based upon this one-sided agreement. Hence, the Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit.

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About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

For the years 2020 and 2021, Ms. Ramos was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the practice area of Litigation - Insurance. The attorneys on this list are selected based upon the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area. A complete description of The Best Lawyers in America© methodology can be viewed via their website at: https://www.bestlawyers.com/methodology.

In 2021, Capehart Scatchard and Ms. Ramos received the “Best Law Firm” ranking in the area of Litigation – Insurance (Metro, Tier 3) published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®. Law firms included on the list are recognized for professional excellence with consistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one attorney who has been included in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top five percent of practicing lawyers in the United States. Betsy Ramos (Litigation – Insurance) was recognized for this prestigious award in the 2021 edition. For a description of the “Best Law Firm” selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

“Best Law Firms” is published by Best Lawyers in partnership with U.S. News & World Report. For a description of the selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

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