Summer is getting closer and closer and many people are hitting their gyms in hopes the treadmills and Zumba classes will help them tone up before it's time for tank tops and shorts. Unfortunately, gyms are fantastic breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses of all sorts - you can pick up everything from ringworm to staph infections there. If you do happen to pick up one of the nasty gym germs, can you sue?
You Probably Signed A Waiver Of Liability
Before you got your pass card for the gym, you probably signed a waiver of liability that - with a lot of requisite legal language - basically stated that you understood the risks associated with using the gym and the dangerous equipment provided and you were willing to accept those risks for yourself. If you ever got hurt, you agreed that you'd hold the gym and its employees blameless.
The big question, if you do come down with something like E.Coli from handling the handlebars of the exercise bike, is whether or not that waiver of liability is enforceable? Sure, you could anticipate dropping a hand weight on your foot or tripping over somebody doing stretches on the exercise mat, but could you really anticipate getting klebsiella from the cardio machine?
The Waiver May Be Unenforceable
Some people would have you believe that waivers are fairly ironclad and you can't do much about it if you've signed one unless you can prove that the gym owners or employees acted with gross negligence. However, that may not be the case.
The law has an interest in maintaining the safety of the public, so waivers are often scrutinized to see if they are against "public policy." That's a rather vague term, and open to interpretation, but when it's said that a contract is against public policy it usually means that the courts think the contract is trying to circumvent laws designed to protect people in an unfair way.
In this case, the law says that the gym owners and employees generally have a duty to maintain a safe environment for its patrons - and no amount of waiving away your rights lets the gym off the hook for that. You're expected to take your fair share of responsibility for engaging in activity that could end up injuring you through strains, sprains, and an occasionally dropped free weight. However, the gym shouldn't seek to make you liable for it's shoddy health practices and poorly maintained equipment when its lack of care is downright dangerous.
In many states, courts will examine waivers to see if they:
- try to exclude reckless and gross negligence, not just common negligence
- are overly broad and inclusive
- are clear and unmistakable in its terms
- aren't deceptively hidden within the remainder of the contract
- give any opportunity to bargain or are "all or nothing" waivers
Essentially, every waiver has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and there's no guarantee which side of the dispute the court will come down on. However, the court may tend to agree with you that a gym has a duty to try to maintain a hygienic atmosphere and should have policies in place that include regular wipe-downs of the equipment and cleaning on a daily basis with antibacterial soap.
If you contracted some sort of nasty virus, bacteria, or fungal infection from your gym and it's caused you serious injury, contact an attorney or a company such as Campbell Law Group PLLC to discuss the possibility of a personal injury lawsuit. The laws of each state are different, so a local attorney will be able to advise you best.