Fitness has become a huge part of our society. An increasing number of Americans are buying gym memberships and personal trainers. As part of these memberships, the gym/trainers almost unanimously have members sign contracts, which include a clause in which the member agrees not to hold the gym or trainer liable for any injury sustained at the gym or injuries resulting from the training. These clauses are called waivers of liability. But, are they even worth the paper they are printed on?
Most gyms have large numbers of available personal trainers, some of whom do not even have college degrees or a proper education in human anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology. The large amount of personal trainers competing against each other and the demand for results has caused personal trainers to push the gym members harder than ever before. For this, trainers demand upwards of $65 an hour (on the low end) and gyms demand high monthly fees.
So, what happens when personal trainers push people too far and hurt them? What happens when someone is injured at the gym in general because of some negligence or wanton disregard on behalf of the gym? What happens when the gym creates a dangerous environment that harms a member? It all comes down to one question: is that liability waiver enforceable?
Gym membership contracts are considered contracts of adhesion, which are disfavored in the law. Gym memberships are offered to members in a non-negotiable “take-it-or-leave-it” form. The member essentially has no bargaining power because not only can the gym afford to refuse the membership, but every gym typically requires members to sign these agreements before allowing a member to join. The potential member has nowhere to turn to find a more attractive offer, one of the main things a court considers in analyzing these adhesion contracts. Essentially, the gym possesses all the power and uses a form contract to assert that power and force the member into a liability waiver.
While a party may contract away their own liability, if part of an adhesion contract (form contract), such as a gym membership contract, then it is possible the clause is unenforceable. When Missouri courts recognize a contract as being one of adhesion, they then look to the expectations of the parties. In the gym scenario, the court would look to see if the member reasonably expected to have a personal trainer push them beyond their limits to the point of injury, or if the member expected the gym to poorly maintain equipment or the premises so as to allow them to be harmful. If the court finds the contract does not fairly represent the expectations of the party, or is too ambiguous, then the court will not enforce the adhesion contract.
Therefore, when an over-zealous personal trainer pushes their trusting client too far to the point of injury, it may be possible to hold them liable for that injury. The same goes if the gym fails to adequately maintain the premises or equipment, or somehow creates a dangerous environment for members.
Contract issues can be complex. However, a gym member should not lose hope because they signed the membership agreement. An injured member should consult with an attorney to determine the scope of the contract and whether or not it is enforceable. These contracts of adhesion may be unenforceable and allow skilled attorneys to get compensation to those injured by the gym and personal trainers.