The facts of the case were rather straight forward. As a member of the fitness club, all patrons are required as part of their membership to sign a waiver and release also known as an exculpatory clause. Clauses like these are typically included in contracts by businesses and are used by the businesses to attempt to limit their liability to consumers. The contract stated in part:
You . . . agree that if you engage in any physical exercise or activity, or use any club amenity on the premises or off premises, including any sponsored club event, you do so entirely at your own risk. You agree that you are voluntarily participating in these activities and use of these facilities and premises and assume all risks of injury, illness or death.
This waiver and release of liability includes, without limitation, all injuries which may occur as a result of . . . (a) your use of all amenities and equipment in the facility; (b) your participation in any activity, including, but not limited to, classes, programs, personal training sessions or instruction; and (c) the sudden and unforeseen malfunctioning of any equipment.
After showing up at the gym to meet with a trainer, she tripped over a weight belt on the floor which had been left on the ground for an unknown amount of time. When she tripped, she seriously injured her hip which resulted in the Plaintiff getting a hip surgery. The waiver that the Plaintiff had signed seemed to be directed at injuries involving the gym equipment or if a patron were to injury themselves while engaging in strenuous exercises. But here, the accident was caused by an entirely unrelated obstacle article left in the walkway. The trainer with whom she was meeting was also aware of the existence of the belt on the floor, but had chosen not to remove it. This was also a company policy at the New York Sports Club that staff members keep the place “hospital clean” by picking up and organizing items that members may leave on the floor of the fitness club.
It is a long-standing principle that NJ business owners owe a duty of care to patrons that enter their premises. “An owner has a duty to guard against any dangerous conditions that the owner knows about or should have discovered; and to conduct reasonable inspections to discover latent dangerous conditions” See Hopkins v. Fox & Lazo Realtors, 132 N.J. 426, 434, 625 A.2d 1110 (1993). The exculpatory clause as mentioned above is subject to limitations in NJ. Attempts to limit the duties that business owners owe to patrons via such exculpatory contracts have historically been disfavored in law. An exculpatory agreement is not enforceable if it adversely affects the public interest.
The Appellate court found that the New York Sports Club exculpatory clause would apply to members using physical fitness equipment or performing strenuous exercises that are prone to injuries. However, in this case, the Plaintiff was merely walking to her personal trainer who was waiting for her. As such the clause limiting liability was not enforceable against the injured club customer. If you have been injured and want to speak directly with an attorney about what rights you have, call the Law Offices of Druckman & Hernandez at 908-353-5850.