Brief Fact Summary.
Plaintiff signed a waiver of liability agreement when she signed up for a bike gym membership. Plaintiff fell off the bike and sued defendant for negligence.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Exculpatory agreement can be enforceable and preclude plaintiffs from recovering damages for defendants’ negligence.
An exculpatory agreement is enforceable if:(1) it does not adversely affect the public interest; (2) the exculpated party is not under a legal duty to perform; (3) it does not involve a public utility or common carrier; or (4) the contract does not grow out of unequal bargaining power or is otherwise unconscionable.View Full Point of Law
Plaintiff participated in a bicycle spinning class. As part of the process of joining the gym facility, she signed a waiver and release of liability for any injuries when she signed up for the class. The form stated, in part, that the member assumed all risks of negligence on the part of the gym, including injury from malfunctioning equipment. During one class, the bike handlebars dislodged and plaintiff fell off the bike. Plaintiff had various injuries and sued defendant for negligence.
Whether a pre-injury waiver of liability agreement precludes plaintiff from recovering for her injuries?
No. The judgment is affirmed. Plaintiff is bound to the pre-injury excuplatory waiver of liability that she executed in connection with her membership.
The Court states that a waiver agreement may be enforced, even though it is a contract of adhesion that requires one party to choose either to accept or reject it. Here, Powerhouse’s agreement was a contract of adhesion, but plaintiff was not in a position of unequal bargaining power such that the contract must be voided. Plaintiff could have simply switched to another gym if she did not want to assume the risk.
In considering whether the exculpatory agreement was enforceable, the Court next examined if plaintiff understood the terms of the agreement. The Court recognized that certain activities require the participant to assume some risk because injuries are common. For such activities, the standard of care to be met must exceed mere negligence because the risk of injury cannot be eliminated through the exercise of reasonable care.
Next, the Court addressed public policy concern. Although there is a public interest in holding businesses a duty to maintain their premises in a safe condition, but any requirement to guarantee a patron’s safety from all risk in using the equipment could deter the establishment of fitness clubs, which perform a salutary purpose by offering activities and equipment for patrons to enjoy challenging physical exercise. However, private fitness centers still have a duty not to engage in reckless or gross negligence.
In this case, plaintiff voluntarily assumes the risk of engaging in the risky activity. Defendant also did not know about any defects of the bike. The waiver agreement is enforceable.