Gross Negligence and the Gym
Every year, thousands of people are injured while working out at their gym or taking exercise classes at the health club. Accidents may occur due to poorly maintained equipment, wet floors, bacterial-filled mats or other hazards.
You may think that if this happens to you, the gym will pay for your medical expenses and reimburse you for wages you lose due to your inability to work as a result of the injury. Unfortunately, if you think this, you are generally wrong. Premise liability cases are difficult from the beginning. However, in addition to the difficult nature of these cases, generally speaking, fitness clubs and gymnasiums almost always have their members sign a liability waiver in order to use the equipment or participate in any exercise, yoga, dance or other type of work-out class.
What is a Waiver?
A waiver is a legal contract between the gym and its members, their guests, or any visitors. It absolves the gym owner or manager from any liability from any injury suffered by those using the equipment or participating in the activities.
Even though you may not recall signing the waiver, the signed document will likely still prevent you from collecting for your damages. With few exceptions, Georgia courts are known to uphold waivers signed by gym participants.
If you file a negligence lawsuit against the gym, the insurer, on behalf of the gym owner or manager, will file a motion for Summary Judgment, which could shut the courthouse door to you and bar you from pursuing your lawsuit and collecting for your damages no matter how severely you were injured.
What is a Summary Judgment?
A summary judgment is an order by the court dismissing your lawsuit. It is issued in response to a motion filed by the attorney for the gym owner or manager and their insurer. Attached to the pleadings will be a copy of the waiver you signed with the insurer’s request to rule against you and dismiss your case on the grounds that, by signing the waiver, you absolved them for any liability for your injury.
There are really only two main ways to prevent your lawsuit from being dismissed. You must prove: 1) The waiver was unclear and included vague and ambiguous language; and, or 2) The actions of the gym were not just negligent, but rose to the level of gross negligence.
Vague and Ambiguous Language
It is rare for a court to determine the language in a waiver document is vague or ambiguous. Attorneys for insurers are careful in crafting waivers with language so clear that courts generally uphold them. If the court finds the language “vague and ambiguous,” that means that a reasonable person would not have been able to read it and understand what it meant. In these rare cases, the court will not grant a summary judgment, which only means the case can proceed. It does not mean the plaintiff has won.
If the injured person can prove the gym owner or manager was grossly negligence, the waiver will not bar the pursuit of a lawsuit. Georgia law defines gross negligence as the absence of slight diligence. Slight diligence is that care “which every man of common sense, however inattentive he may be, exercises under the same or similar circumstances.”
Gross negligence has also been defined as “a severe degree of negligence taken as reckless disregard.” It is said to be “so great, it appears to be a conscious violation of other people’s rights to safety.”
One example of gross negligence which allowed the family of a 68-year-old man to recover on their wrongful death lawsuit. The man suffered a heart attack at his local gym and subsequently died. The family alleged it was grossly negligent for the gym to fail to have an automatic external defibrillator (AED) on hand when it sold memberships to people of all ages, including those in the age group of the deceased.
The court agreed. It found this failure was “reckless and grossly negligent behavior.” Accordingly, the waiver was not valid and the decedent’s estate was awarded $250,000.
If you were injured at the gym, or someone you love died as a result of their injury, you need the help of the competent and experienced attorneys at Georgia Trial Attorneys. We will review the circumstances of your case and analyze any signed waiver and determine how to proceed. Contact us as soon as possible for a free case evaluation.