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Appeals court allows man to sue despite waiver

A precedential decision by a New Jersey appeals court on Aug. 18 more clearly defines the limits of legal protection granted by liability waivers common to health clubs and gyms across the country. The court was examining the case of Walters v. YMCA. The Superior Court originally granted YMCA summary judgment, citing that the contract Walters had signed barred him from filing any lawsuit against the gym for personal injury.

The appeals court overturned this decision and provided reasoning in their opinions. In Walters' case, he was injured by slipping on a step leading from the pool. The step was supposed to have a rubber matting that would prevent slipping, but the matting had reportedly worn off. The appeals court declared that the waiver in the contract did not apply to general injuries. They stated that they did not believe such contracts should be used to completely protect a business from all forms of lawsuit, and that the contact applied primarily to those engaging in inherently risky behaviors such as strenuous workouts on gym equipment.

Most businesses are expected to maintain a safe environment for customers; any unsafe conditions are to be clearly marked and customers are to be warned away from the high-risk area. When a customer is injured due to dangerous conditions that were not clearly identified or marked, a business may have violated its duty of care and could be liable for any injuries sustained.

Businesses such as fitness centers cannot fully rely on their contracts for blanket protection. They will still be expected to maintain safe premises for customers or face a lawsuit. An individual who believes that they were injured on a business' property due to a failure to maintain a safe environment may contact an attorney to discuss their options.

Source: New Jersey Law Journal, "Court Says Waivers Don't Negate Common Law Duty of Care", Mary Pat Gallagher, August 18, 2014

Source: New Jersey Law Journal, "Court Says Waivers Don't Negate Common Law Duty of Care", Mary Pat Gallagher, August 18, 2014

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