Learn what insurance companies don’t want you to know about gym and fitness center injury claims. You can get fair compensation.
More than 4 million people end up in the emergency room each year for injuries from sports and recreation exercises.¹
Today’s fitness clubs, exercise studios, Pilates classes, and yoga centers are an important part of daily life for many American adults.
Dedicated to molding bodies into shape, they’re a refuge from the stress of our daily lives. However, they can also be minefields, filled with dead weights, one-ton workout machines, pulleys, steel wires, wet floors, and bacteria-filled mats.
Somewhere in the fine print of the membership agreement is a section that essentially says you’re on your own if you get hurt. Is it binding? Maybe not.
Learn what “liability waivers” mean, and when you can still seek compensation for your injuries.
Causes and Types of Gym Injuries
Thousands of people are hurt each year in gyms and exercise classes across the country. The exact circumstances of each person’s accident are unique. However, the most common causes of gym or fitness center injuries are:
- Falling free weights
- Slip and falls
- Defective or improperly maintained equipment
- Poorly maintained building, sidewalks, and parking areas
Most commonly reported types of injuries:
- Soft tissue injuries, such as strains, sprains and bruising
- Back and neck injuries from falls and awkward landings
- Broken or crushed bones from falling weights
- Shoulder injuries
- Knee and leg injuries
- Wrist sprain or dislocation
- Groin pulls
- Shin splints
- Cardiac events, such as heart attack
Injury Claims Need Strong Evidence
No matter the circumstances of your injury, you will need evidence to prove your claim.
Report the injury: It’s critical that you report your injury to the gym’s staff, preferably a manger, as soon as it happens. No one will believe you were hurt at the gym if you let hours or days go by.
Request contact information for the gym’s insurance company. Also, ask how to reach the gym’s corporate office or parent company offices.
Get medical care: If you are badly hurt, let them call an ambulance. If you don’t go straight to the hospital from the gym, you must have a medical evaluation as soon as possible. Tell your medical providers when, where, and how you were injured.
Refusing or delaying medical treatment gives the insurance company another reason to deny your claim. They’ll argue your injuries didn’t happen at the gym.
Keep records: You’ll need to request copies of your medical records to show the extent of your gym injuries. Keep copies of all your medical bills and receipts for out-of-pocket expenses.
If you miss work, get a statement of lost wages from your employer.
Write it down: Keep detailed notes including the names and job description of everyone you talked to at the gym. Make notes about every communication you have with the insurance company or gym management. Write out exactly how you were injured at the gym, and what happened afterward.
Take pictures: Use your phone to take as many pictures of the accident scene as possible. Photographs and video of the broken equipment, wet floors, or whatever caused your injury can be very compelling evidence.
Find witnesses: Try to talk to anyone at the gym who saw you get hurt, or who can verify the problem that caused your accident. Witness statements are valuable forms of evidence. Ask witnesses for full names and contact information. If you find a witness willing to write down what they saw, ask them to sign and date their statement.
Assumption of Risk and Liability Waivers
Many gym injuries result from negligent management and poorly maintained equipment. It seems logical that gym members would have the right to file insurance claims if they’re injured on the premises. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
Assumption of Risk
When it comes to gym injury claims, one of the first arguments you’ll hear from the insurance company has to do with assumption of risk, meaning you knew you could get hurt at the gym, and chose to join anyway.
That’s true, to the extent that you chose to engage in strenuous physical activity. If you pull a muscle lifting weights, it’s not the gym’s fault. However, you probably didn’t expect the risk of injury from faulty exercise equipment, broken glass, slippery floors, or other hazards.
To knowingly assume a risk, you must have an idea of the potential harm that may happen if you go ahead with an activity. There are two ways you can agree to take a risk:
- Implied assumption doesn’t involve a written agreement, but your willingness to engage in a risky activity is shown by your words or behavior. For example, if you’re scalded after ignoring the “Out of Order” sign on the sauna, it can be argued that you knew it was dangerous and used the sauna anyway.
- Express assumption means you signed an agreement that says you fully understand the risks involved and you promise not seek compensation if you get hurt.
Your express assumption of risk at the gym is detailed in the liability waiver section of your membership agreement.
Understanding Liability Waivers
To stem the tide of rising insurance claims and lawsuits, most gym owners now require prospective members to sign agreements that include a “waiver of liability.”
The word liability means responsibility. Waive is a legal term meaning to surrender or give up. Signing a membership agreement with a waiver of liability means you agree to give up the right to blame the gym if something happens to you.
Liability waivers are legal contracts that prevent members and their guests from filing any legal action against the gym ownership or management.
A typical waiver of liability has language like this:
“In consideration of my use of the exercise equipment and facilities provided by the company, I expressly agree and contract, on behalf of myself, my heirs, executors, administrators, successors and assigns, that the company and its insurers, employees, officers, directors, and associates, shall not be liable for any damages arising from personal injuries (including death) sustained by me, or my guest in, on, or about the premises, or as a result of the use of the equipment or facilities, regardless of whether such injuries result, in whole or in part, from the negligence of the company and its employees, agents, servants and associates….”
These waivers contain additional language that makes them all but ironclad. To be able to use the gym equipment and facilities, potential members must complete and sign several forms.
The waiver form is just one of many forms to sign when you join a fitness center. Don’t expect the gym’s employee to point out the liability waiver before you sign on the dotted line. Even if you ask about the waiver, the gym employee isn’t likely to be able to explain all the legal jargon.
Gym membership agreements and forms, including the waiver of liability language, are written by contract lawyers who are paid to protect the interests of the gym.
It’s your responsibility to read and understand any contract or agreement before you sign it, no matter if it’s a paper document or an online form. Before you decide to join your local gym, read the waiver of liability. Ask for a copy to take home and study.
The problem is if you don’t sign the waiver, you can’t join the gym.
Most people don’t hesitate to sign gym memberships without trying to understand the “fine print.” They can’t imagine ever getting seriously injured at the gym. Until they do.
Dealing with the Insurance Company
Insurance companies love waivers of liability. Waivers give them the power to just say no to injury claims. Moreover, getting the name of the gym’s insurance company can be tough. In most cases, gyms have no legal obligation to give you their insurance information.
Once you sign the membership contract and waiver of liability, you’re pretty much on your own.
There is a high turnover of gym and fitness club employees. They’re the last people to depend on if you’re hurt on the gym’s premises. Even long-time employees are helpless when it comes to assisting you with an injury claim.
Even if they have the name and contact information for the gym’s insurance company, you can bet the owner won’t let them tell you. If you’re lucky enough to reach the insurance company, there’s only a very small chance they will even consider your claim without a court battle.
You can try to recover the actual costs of your medical bills through small claims court. Unfortunately, your case will probably be dismissed when the insurance company’s lawyer produces the liability waiver you signed. Then you’ll be out the cost of your filing fees with nothing to show for it.
The insurance company may be willing to pay a nuisance value to make you go away, but you’ll have to sign a release giving up the right to seek any more compensation. If you’re fully recovered from minor soft-tissue injuries, taking a small settlement may be the way to go.
Severe injury claims are another story.
Overcoming a Waiver of Liability
When you’ve suffered serious injuries because of a gym’s negligence, don’t give up.
With strong evidence and a skilled personal injury attorney, you can pursue fair injury compensation, despite the waiver of liability.
There are two legal arguments your attorney might use to overcome a signed liability waiver:
1. Vague and Ambiguous Language
Your attorney may be able to convince a jury that the waiver language was “vague and ambiguous,” meaning the wording was so confusing that a reasonable person could not understand it.
If the court agrees, the waiver will no longer be valid, and you can proceed with your injury case.
2. Gross Negligence
Proving “gross negligence” is a very effective way to defeat a waiver of liability. Gross negligence means your injuries happened because the gym showed a reckless disregard for customer safety.
Gross negligence is much more serious than a simple mistake by a gym employee. It means the gym made a deliberate choice that knowingly put customers in danger.
Take a look at some examples of how proving gross negligence can help to win your case:
Example: Wrongful Death Due to Gross Negligence
The family of a 68-year-old man who suffered a heart attack and died at a local gym filed a lawsuit against the gym for wrongful death, alleging gross negligence.
The lawsuit claimed the gym was negligent for not having an automatic external defibrillator (AED) on the premises.
The gym’s insurance company argued that the man who died had signed a waiver of liability, releasing the gym from any responsibility for his death.
The family’s attorney argued it was grossly negligent for a gym that sells memberships to men and women of all ages not to have an AED onsite.
The court agreed and found the waiver didn’t protect the gym from what the court called “reckless and grossly negligent behavior.” The court awarded the man’s estate $250,000.
Example: Serious Foot Injury from Gross Negligence
A 35-year-old man was working out at a local gym. He had signed a standard waiver of liability contract. One day, while walking barefoot in the locker room, he stepped on a jagged soda can, severing multiple tendons in his left foot. After several surgeries to repair the tendons, the man’s medical bills amounted to more than $60,000.
Citing the waiver of liability, the gym’s insurance company denied his injury claim.
The injured man hired an attorney and filed suit alleging the gym was grossly negligent.
At trial, the man’s attorney presented evidence that the gym had laid off several employees to cut costs. One of the laid-off employees was a janitor, whose job duties included keeping the trash cans emptied and the floor free from debris.
Further evidence revealed management knew that since they laid off the janitor, trash cans in the locker room and elsewhere in the gym frequently overflowed with trash, including soda cans.
Management had laid off the janitor six weeks before the man stepped on the can. In the interim, several gym members complained to management about overfilled trashcans and spilled debris on the floor in the locker room.
The injured man won his case. His attorney convinced the court that gym management knew members walked barefoot in locker rooms and knew aluminum cans left on the locker room floor created a dangerous condition.
The gym’s failure to remove the dangerous condition was gross negligence. The court awarded the injured man $120,000.
Don’t just walk away empty handed. If you or a loved one have been seriously injured by the gross negligence of a gym or fitness center, you have options.
There’s no obligation, and it costs nothing to find out what an experienced personal injury attorney can do for you.
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