Divided court highlights potential waiver pitfalls
Melinda Hinkal found out the hard way that it’s important to read before signing that liability waiver. She, like everyone else who applied to join the gym, was required to sign a waiver before she could begin working out in the facility. After joining, Hinkal claimed that too much weight on the equipment she was using caused a neck injury. It was her contention that the trainer advised her to continue working out even after she complained of pain.
The PA State Superior Court decision ruled she could not sue the gym because the signed waiver stipulates that gym members “assume all risks of personal injury.” However, not all the judges agreed with the ruling. A dissenting judge argued that the waiver agreement “contravenes public policy,” which is intended to protect consumers. The dissenting judge also noted that the waiver didn’t clearly stipulate that personal training sessions were covered.
Would your waiver hold up in court?
This case shows that the outcome of any given case clearly depends on the judge’s interpretation. This case also provides a clear example of some of the points I bring up in “Are Waivers/Releases Worth the Paper on Which They’re Written?” Chief among those points is that courts are more likely to rule in favor of a waiver that was custom written for specific activities and that aims to meet the requirements of your state’s laws.
So, what is a well-written waiver/release? Quite simply, nearly every phrase in every sentence must be written to avoid the pitfalls that resulted in actual rulings against waivers. The above-mentioned article lists 10 common waver risks to avoid.
Waivers and risk management
Given the dissenting opinion and the pitfalls mentioned above, it’s logical to assume that a different panel of judges might have ruled in Hinkal’s favor. So, don’t assume you’ll beat the odds if your waiver comes under scrutiny.
We have many other risk management articles pertinent to health clubs and fitness trainers. And we offer best-in-industry fitness instructor insurance and fitness center insurance at up to 38% savings.