Search Site
Menu

Appellate Division Limits Scope of Waiver Provision in Gym Membership

The New Jersey Appellate Division recently held that an exculpatory clause within a fitness club’s membership agreement does not operate to absolve the club of all liability for personal injury on its premises. The case, Walters v. YMCA, 2014 N.J. Super. LEXIS 117 (App. Div. Aug. 11, 2014), was brought by a member of the defendant fitness club, who was injured when he slipped and fell on a worn out stair tread on his way to the fitness club’s indoor pool. The member sued, seeking to recover for the injuries he sustained as a result of the fall on the basis that the club was negligent in allowing the dangerous condition to exist on its premises. The club, in response, moved for summary judgment, relying on the “hold harmless” agreement found within the club’s membership agreement, which the member had signed as a prerequisite to joining the club. The trial court agreed with the club and granted summary judgment.

On appeal, the Court examined the membership agreement and the hold harmless provisions, finding that, if the hold harmless language applied literally, it would shield the club from virtually all civil liability. Citing precedent on exculpatory agreements, the Court reiterated that such an agreement is only enforceable if “(1) it does not adversely affect the public interest;” and “(2) the exculpated party is not under a legal duty to perform.”

Business owners in New Jersey, as the Court explains, have well-established duties of care to patrons who come upon the premises of their businesses. Thus, allowing the exculpatory clause in question to bar any claims by individuals injured on the club’s premises would eviscerate the common law duties of business owners to invitees. The Court rejected the club’s arguments to the contrary, including arguments that the pool was a “sponsored activity” under the exculpatory agreement and thus injuries occurring around the pool are covered by the agreement. The Court noted instead that the injury suffered by the member was not the result of using the club’s exercise equipment or even the pool, but was the type of injury for which general premises liability might attach. The Court also found that agreement to be a contract of adhesion, as the club required all members to sign it. Characterizing the agreement as a “one-sided contractual arrangement,” the Court found that any such contract which sought to protect the drafter against civil liability was unenforceable as it goes against public policy.

As an aside, the Appellate Division had harsh words for the appellant’s attorney, who failed to provide a complete statement of facts with citation to the appendix, and instead referred the Court generally to documents contained within the appendix. While stopping short of fining appellant’s counsel, which the Court noted it “seriously considered,” the Court chided such conduct as a violation of the rules and a sign of disrespect to the Court and to the profession of law itself. All attorneys practicing before the Appellate Division would be wise to take the Court’s language in this case under advisement.

The attorneys at Lieberman Blecher & Sinkevich P.C. will continue to closely follow developments in civil liability and appellate practice in New Jersey in order to ensure that our clients receive the most accurate and effective legal services possible.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Our Attorneys

Recent Twitter Posts

  • DEP urged to set tough limit on 1,4-dioxane in drinking water. https://t.co/UESauZowsJ
    1 month ago
  • Beach access issue returns in Cape May County beach community, near the location of a similar issue that was litiga… https://t.co/tWOMcfTqwM
    2 months ago
  • Another effort to make the Delaware Water Gap a national park is underway. https://t.co/C00NZ43nZU
    2 months ago
  • New Jersey seeks designation of Lower Hackensack River as a federal Superfund site. https://t.co/czOI3hDNb2
    2 months ago

Recent Blog Posts

Environmental Hearing Requests by Third Parties: An Update

In 2010 this author contributed an article discussing the difficulty that anyone other than an applicant had in administratively contesting a permit. Stuart J. Lieberman and Shari M. Blecher, “It’s
Read More
Environmental Hearing Requests by Third Parties: An Update

Hoboken cannot block residential development with new zoning ordinances, Supreme Court holds

In Shipyard Assocs., LP v. City of Hoboken, 242 N.J. 23 (2020), the Supreme Court held that the City of Hoboken could not block a waterfront residential development by enacting
Read More
Hoboken cannot block residential development with new zoning ordinances, Supreme Court holds

Long standing land use attorney Michele Donato joins Princeton’s Lieberman Blecher & Sinkevich as “of counsel”

The law firm of Lieberman, Blecher & Sinkevich is  proud to announce that Michele R. Donato, Esq. has become Of Counsel with their firm. Ms. Donato has specialized in land use,
Read More
Long standing land use attorney Michele Donato joins Princeton’s Lieberman Blecher & Sinkevich as “of counsel”

RLUIPA case in SDNY challenges alleged discrimination against Orthodox Jewish community

In December 2020, the Southern District of New York filed a lawsuit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) against the Village of Airmont. The suit alleges
Read More
RLUIPA case in SDNY challenges alleged discrimination against Orthodox Jewish community

In the media

  • Gulf Coast Town Center facing foreclosure

    Naples Daily News, September 16, 2015

    Wells Fargo filed a lawsuit Sept. 8 against an affiliate of CBL & Associates, the owners of the decadeold, 1.2 million-square-foot mall in south Fort Myers for a $190.9 million unpaid loan. The center has 94 stores on 204 acres, with such anchors as Super Target, Belk, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Marshalls and Costco...

    Read More
  • Town liable for private company's leaking underground tanks, court rules

    NJ.com Jul 26, 2017

    CRANFORD -- A couple that owned a businesses in town and became sick from leaking underground tanks owned by an adjacent business can sue the township for damages because the tanks were partially ...

    Read More
  • Dark Waters: How a Class Action Catapulted NJ to Forefront of 'Forever Chemicals' Battle

    NJ Law Journal Jan 09, 2020

    As property owners become increasingly aware of PFAS contamination, and as individuals exposed to PFAS learn of the health risks associated with exposure, liability will likely affect entire supply chains.

    Read More
  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
Contact Our Firm

Quick Contact Form