By: Karen Piso Nadeau, Esquire
Happy 2020 Massachusetts! It is a New Year with New Year’s resolutions. Eating and exercising better tops many of our lists. Fitness Centers and exercise classes are filled with renewed energy and commitments to get in shape. There are many deals and promotions to get you to become a member. The possibilities are endless: cross training, personal training, fitness classes, boot camps, muscle conditioning, weight training, spinning classes, yoga. When joining the fitness facility, there is the usual paperwork to sign with the terms of your membership. Contained in this paperwork is often a document known as a waiver or release. The gym has you sign this waiver that states you are giving up your rights to make any claim against the gym or its employees for personal injury or property damage arising from your participation in the activities at the gym even if the gym or its employees are negligent and cause you harm.
Here is an example of such a waiver:
I, _______________________________ hereby fully waive and release THE XYZ GYM, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and its employees, officers, directors, shareholders, affiliates, agents, representatives, successors and assigns (collectively “Releasees”), from any and all claims, demands, damages, costs, expenses, causes of action (“Claim”) with respect to personal injury, property damage, or death arising from my participation notwithstanding any Claim may have been contributed to or occasioned by the negligence of any of the Releasees. I hereby indemnify and save harmless the Releasees from and against any and all liability incurred by any or all of them arising as a result of or in any way connected to my participation in the Activity. I hereby voluntarily, at my own risk, sign this Release in sole consideration of being permitted to use the Company’s facilities or property. I have read and understood the foregoing and acknowledge my consent to the terms of this Release by signing this Release.
What does it mean if you sign one of these waivers in Massachusetts?
If you are injured at the gym due to the negligence of the gym and its employees, does a signed waiver mean you gave up your rights to make a claim?
In Massachusetts, signing the waiver or release means nothing- I mean absolutely nothing. You have NOT given up any rights. Why you ask? BECAUSE THESE RELEASES AND WAIVERS ARE UNENFORCEABLE AND ILLEGAL IN MASSACHUSETTS. The fitness centers and their shareholders and investors and the insurance companies that insure them don’t want you to know this. Most of them know that these releases are worthless and unenforceable. But, they do the job they are designed to do. They serve a purpose despite being completely unenforceable in Massachusetts. These releases and waivers signed by the customers have their members believe that they did, in fact, give up their rights. So, when something happens, gym participants do nothing and fail to pursue claims against the center and the insurance company that insures the facility.
Having handled many fitness related accident cases, we know first-hand that our own clients believed that they had no case to pursue despite wrongdoing by the facility and its employees causing serious harm to our clients. They assumed the waiver was legal and enforceable. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Massachusetts courts generally uphold the validity of releases and waivers that are entered into knowingly. This includes releases signed before an accident occurs. A defendant ordinarily may “validly exempt itself from liability which it might subsequently incur as a result of its own negligence.” Lee v. Allied Sports Assoc., 349 Mass. 544, 550 (1965)(car racetrack accident). The requirements for a binding release include clear and conspicuous language, proper naming of the party, the signature of the party and valid contractual consideration. Consideration, meaning something of value that is exchanged, is satisfied by the participation in the activity.
One exception to the enforceability of releases is a release of liability to join a gym or health club. Massachusetts has law that specifically addresses these gym waivers and releases. The statutory law states:
“No contract for health club services may contain any provisions whereby the buyer agrees not to assert against the seller …any claim or defense arising out of the health club services contract or the buyer’s activities at the health club.” M.G.L. c. 93, Section 80.
M.G.L. c. 93, Section 80 makes such language unenforceable and in fact a violation of M.G.L. c. 93A, the consumer protection act. Any waiver the gym member signs is invalid because in Massachusetts, no health club can legally ask a participant to sign a waiver of liability.
The definition of health club is broad and includes health spas, racquetball and tennis clubs, gymnasiums, martial arts, and the like.
Fitness facilities have a duty to maintain their premises and make sure they are being used in a safe manner. Gym owners owe a duty of care to their members and cannot escape responsibility by claiming the gym participant signed a waiver.
Yes, you can bring a claim against a gym for personal injury in Massachusetts, and the waiver signed is not an obstacle. However, not all injuries at a gym are caused by wrongdoing of the gym owner or gym employees. Not all injuries are caused by negligence. The circumstances of your particular accident will need to be investigated to determine if there is a valid claim to pursue.
When a person is injured in an accident, a thorough investigation of the accident events is necessary to determine the cause and secure important information. As a victim of an accident, make sure everything is done to protect your interests. The lawyers at Nadeau Harkavy LLC help victims and their families recover damages for their losses in serious injury and wrongful death cases arising from accidents. If you have any questions about your legal rights relating to a gym accident, wrongful death or other accident, feel free to contact us for a free consult today at 617-674-7640