Can a Waiver of Liability Agreement Include Accidents Caused by the Negligence of a Personal Trainer?
In a prior blog entry, I discussed the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision in Stelluti v. Casapenn Enterprises, LLC, case, where our NJ Supreme Court ruled that members of gyms and health clubs can be made to sign away their right to sue over injuries, except those caused by recklessness or gross neglect by the operators. In Stelluti, the Supreme Court wrote that “When a party enters into a signed, written contract, the party is presumed to understand and assent to its terms, unless fraudulent conduct is suspected.”
Now, in an unpublished opinion titled Allen v. LA Fitness International, which was decided on June 15,2011 by our Appellate Division, there the Court considered a case in which plaintiff Allen joined defendant LA Fitness International and signed an agreement for personal training sessions. Allen alleged simple negligence against defendant asserting that she suffered a shoulder injury that she sustained as a consequence of performing an unsafe exercise at the direction of a trainer who had failed to assess her condition and needs. Relying on Allen’s agreement to assume the risk of her activities with the personal trainer and her release and waiver of claims based on negligence related to that activity, defendant filed a motion for a directed verdict which the trial court judge denied. The jury found defendant LA Fitness International negligent and awarded Allen $525,000. After defendant filed its notice of appeal, the Supreme Court of New Jersey issued its decision in the Stelluti case. Allen argued on appeal that her case is distinguishable from Stelluti because it involves a contract for a personal trainer. The Appellate Division disagreed with Allen and indicated that the holding in Stelluti is stated broadly to include “participation in instructed activity.” The Appellate Division ruled that Stelluti controls and requires reversal of the judgment and dismissal of Allen’s Complaint.
When I read the recent Allen decision, I thought back to Supreme Court Justice Barry Albin’s dissenting opinion in the Stelluti case in which he wrote, “Without the incentive to place safety over profits, the cost to the public will be an increase in the number of avoidable accidents in health clubs.”