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All too frequently people sign contracts or agreements without bothering to read them. They just sign each blank that's highlighted, or every line marked with a X. For plaintiff Patricia Evans from Pennsylvania, this proved to be the error that ended her injury case against the gym chain LA Fitness.
In November 2014, while working out under a personal trainer's direction, the 63 year old was doing suicide runs when she fell and fractured her wrist. She alleged that her trainer was pushing her to go faster when the fall and fracture occurred. The fitness company prevailed on summary judgment, meaning that a trial never happened and a jury never heard the case, because Ms. Evans signed a release of liability form.
Releases and Waivers Can End Your Case
Most gyms or facilities that permit the public to come in and partake in physical activity will ask all participants to sign a release or waiver of liability before starting any activity. Because people are faced with only two options, sign and participate, or don't sign and don't participate, these waivers and releases get signed without even being read. Even if the waiver is read, there is no negotiation available. These waivers are routinely upheld by courts.
Ms. Evans was faced with this exact situation: either sign the waiver or don't use the facility. When she was injured, her attorney filed suit and attempted to challenge the waiver on the grounds that it is a contract of adhesion and thus void as per public policy. Unfortunately for Ms. Evans, the court did not believe that she had no option but to sign the agreement. The Court found that she could have not signed, and not used the services or facility; that by signing the release, she was assuming the risk that she could be injured while exercising.
Common Sense Does Not Always Control
Some might consider it fair that Ms. Evans did not win her case, and that she was prevented from even trying her case to a jury, because she fell. Many take the opinion that suing a gym when you caused your own injury is not right. However, consider the recent case of Jonas Barrish against CrossFit Inc.. In that case, a release was not signed and the gym was held liable for the independent action of Mr. Barrish that caused his injury. His instructor even told him not to do what he did, yet he was still successful in winning a verdict because gym instructors have a duty to keep their participants safe.
Releases and waivers will not always be upheld, however courts tend to enforce the releases in the absence of gross misconduct, especially if the releases or waivers are narrowly tailored.