Waivers are everywhere nowadays, even when you sign up for a gym membership. So the questions are: what did you give up by signing the waiver, and is it enforceable? Well, as you might have guessed, that depends on the language of the waiver. In a recent case, Fresnedo v. Porky’s Gym III, Inc., Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal ruled that an injured customer of a gym could still sue the gym for damages even though he had signed a waiver.
The victim, a member of the gym, was knocked unconscious and suffered facial fractures after another patron attacked him. The victim filed suit claiming that the gym had a legal duty to maintain its premises safely, and it failed to do so by allowing the attacker to stay at the gym despite having displayed aggressive behavior prior to the attack. The gym asked the judge to throw the case out of court based upon the fact that, when the victim became a member of the gym, he signed a waiver and release form.
Generally, waivers that attempt to deny an injured party the right to recover damages from the person negligently causing his/her injury aren’t favored under the law. However, these types of waivers are enforceable where the intention to be relieved from liability is clear and unequivocal. The wording of the waiver must be so clear and understandable that an ordinary and knowledgeable person will know what he or she is contracting away.
In the Fresnedo case, the form signed by the victim contained several paragraphs stating that the victim would not attempt to hold the gym responsible for any injuries incurred while on the premises and that he would assume full responsibility for any risk of bodily injury while on the premises.
Ultimately, in reviewing the entire waiver signed by the victim, the Court found that the waiver language was not so clear. Instead, it appeared to release the gym from injuries that occurred only as a result of using the gym’s equipment. Therefore, the waiver did not prevent the victim from filing suit against the gym.
The bottom line is, when you sign a waiver, the defense will use it to try to get your case thrown out, but those waivers are not foolproof. Florida law disfavors the use of the waivers, and many times, you may still have a case even if you signed such a document.