So it’s the end of the year and you vow to take better care of yourself in the New Year. You start thinking, “no more second helpings at the dinner table” and “maybe just one scoop of ice cream for desert.” You even consider joining a gym. You may be surprised to learn that our New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled this year (in Stelluti v. Casapenn Enterprises LLC), 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. 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.”
In this case, a person named Gina Stelluti was injured at a Powerhouse Gym. When she joined the gym she signed a waiver in which she agreed that she was exercising “entirely at your own risks” and that she would “assume all risks.” The waiver also indicated that by signing the form, she agreed to a “release of liability” for the gym. While she was spinning, she stood up on the pedals when told to do so by the instructor. As she did, the bike’s handlebars dislodged and she fell to the floor injuring herself. It was later determined that a pin holding the handlebars in place had been removed or had fallen out. Ms. Stelluti suffered a cracked tooth. She also complained about pain in her neck, shoulders, back, and thighs.
The Supreme Court indicated that Ms. Stelluti could have gone to another club if she did not want to sign the waiver. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Barry Albin wrote, “The Court’s decision will ensure that these contracts of adhesion will become an industry-wide practice and that membership in health clubs will be conditioned on powerless consumers signing a waiver immunizing clubs for their own negligence.” A contract of adhesion is defined as one presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, commonly in a standardized printed form, without opportunity for the adhering party to negotiate. Justice Albin also 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.”