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Suing a Gym When You’ve Signed a Waiver

Some might argue that the modern obsession with fitness and bodybuilding started right here in Southern California where Muscle Beach and the original Gold’s Gym both got their start. And while healthy living is an admirable goal, it is also the case that at least half a million people each year suffer some kind of gym or training related injury. In many cases, the person injured may have been at fault for not following instructions, ignoring safety precautions, or simply taking on more of a physical challenge than he or she can handle. But in other cases, the gym (which we will use here loosely to describe any fitness-related run for profit, e.g. a cycling or rock climbing studio) or its employees played a part in causing the injury. Most if not all gyms require participants to sign a waiver before they engage in physical activity, and, when asked, are likely to tell participants that this completely limits their ability to sue the gym. But is this really true in California? In many cases, the answer is no.

Waivers Can Cover Negligence…

California law does allow for gyms to effectively release themselves from liability for some acts of negligence by having a participant sign the waiver prior to participating. There are some requirements for this to be effective, however. First, the waiver must be “unequivocal,” or in other words must clearly spell out that the participant is waiving his or her liability to sue for a negligent act or omission.

Second, while the waiver does not necessarily have to specify all the risks the waiver covers, nor do all the risks have to be known to the participant, the waiver will only be effective in covering risks “reasonably related to the object or purpose for which the release is given.” Thus, if you sign a waiver prior to a spinning class, you may not be able to successfully sue for negligent acts related to the spinning itself, e.g. an injury resulting a negligently maintained machine. But if the injury results from an employee’s behavior not having to do with the spinning itself – say, for example, negligently giving your financial information to a third party – the waiver may not be effective.

…but Not Gross Negligence

Furthermore, a waiver cannot be used to prevent a gym for facing liability for gross negligence, even if the waiver specifically uses the language of “gross negligence.” Such waivers are considered against public policy in California and thus unenforceable. The line between what type of act constitutes negligence and what is gross negligence is not a well-defined one, and attorneys on both sides will make their best arguments for a why given act should be classified as one or the other. That said, a basic way to look at this is to think of negligence as an oversight which should have been corrected but was not (e.g. cleaning up a spill), whereas gross negligence is an act in which a person acts carelessly and shows little to no concern for the potential dangerous consequences of the act or omission.

Work with Proven Leaders in Personal Injury in the Inland Empire

The personal injury attorneys at McCune Wright Arevalo, LLP have consistently won multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements on behalf of individuals and their families across the Inland Empire for years. If you have been seriously injured in a fitness, gym, or sports-related environment, contact one of our personal injury attorneys today to discuss how we can be of assistance to you in bringing your case.

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