Personal Injury

Injured While Working Out: Can You Sue for Injuries at the Gym?

By David Goguen, J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law
You may have suffered an injury at the gym, but that doesn't mean the facility is going to be liable in the eyes of the law. It often comes down to the paperwork you signed, and the nature of the underlying incident.

From yoga to Pilates, CrossFit to good old-fashioned weightlifting, gyms and exercise facilities are a common sight across the country. With so many people testing their physical limits in an effort to get fit and healthy, injuries are inevitable, and they can be caused by everything from inadequate stretching before a workout to improper use of equipment. The more complex and sophisticated the workout regime, the more important it becomes that participants receive adequate instruction and proper supervision.

But no matter how careless the instructor or the facility may have been in connection with an injury, the membership documents you signed are going to play a big role in determining whether you have any legal recourse. In other words, as inevitable as injuries may be in the gym/exercise setting, that doesn’t mean they are all “actionable” from a personal injury law standpoint. Most aren’t, in fact. Signed waivers and the legal doctrine of “assumption of the risk” will preclude the filing of many a personal injury claim, but in some situations a fitness facility may still be on the legal hook for an accident or injury that occurs during a workout. Read on to learn more.

Can You Sue? Waivers and Disclaimers

This is the most important question when it comes to the potential liability of gyms and other facility. No matter how badly you were injured, you might not be able to hold the facility (or any of its employees) responsible.

That’s because when you sign up to become a member of a gym or fitness facility -- or even when you just use the facility as a visitor or on a trial basis to see if you want to sign up -- chances are you will be asked to sign a document that includes a “waiver of liability” provision. Sign here, initial there, and next thing you know (or don’t know), you’ve agreed not to hold the facility legally responsible for any injury you suffer while exercising. In other words, you’ve essentially given up your right to file a personal injury lawsuit against the facility, except in rare instances.

The language in these waivers can be intentionally broad. The clause may even say it covers "any use" or "any activity" on company premises. Here are some additional examples of what you might find in the fine print of these waivers:

  • Language stating that you are aware of and “willingly assume” all risks associated with the type of training/exercise you are signing up for, including the risk of falls, sprains, strains, broken bones, even death.
  • Language stating that you are aware of and “willingly assume” all risk of injury or even death due to the ordinary negligence of other users of the facility.
  • Language stating that you are aware of and “willingly assume” the risk of injury and even death due to improper use of equipment, or due to defects in that equipment.
  • Language stating that you release the facility, its principals, and its employees from liability for anything that happens to you in connection with the activity you are participating in, including injuries caused by the negligence of the facility and/or its employees.
  • You may also be initialing or signing next to a clause that says something like, “I have no pre-existing health problems that would hinder or affect my ability to participate in this activity.”

Waivers Don’t Cover Everything

No matter how broad the language of a waiver seems to be, it can’t usually be applied to injuries that result from intentional or reckless conduct on the part of the facility, one of its employees, or a fellow customer. So, if you are assaulted by someone at your gym, or if your injury was caused by some particularly outrageous action -- the instructor knew certain equipment was defective, but let you use it anyway, for example -- the facility probably won’t be able to hide behind any waiver.

It’s also important to note that any waiver can be challenged in court, if your personal injury lawsuit gets that far. And if the judge decides that there is something insufficient or unfair about the waiver -- it is overly broad, the rights that are being signed away are not clearly stated, or critical language is written in tiny font, for example -- it might not be upheld.

If you’ve been injured while exercising at any kind of gym, and you believe the facility or one of its employees is at fault, now is not the time to worry about the legal effect of any waiver you signed. Especially if your injuries are anything more than minor, make sure you follow up with all necessary medical treatment, and get in touch with an experienced personal injury attorney to make sure your legal rights are protected. Learn more about Why You Need a Personal Injury Lawyer.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I was injured on a stairmaster but the membership form I signed says I can't sue the gym. I didn’t read that part of the form before I signed it. Is it still valid?
  • Another gym member pushed me off of the treadmill. Does the waiver I signed still apply?
  • How long do I have to file a personal injury lawsuit against the yoga center where I slipped and fell?

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