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Gym Exercises Contractual Right Under Waiver of Liability Term (PA)

November 23, 2016

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In <em><a href="http://blog.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Toro-v.-LA-Fitness.pdf">Toro v. L A Fitness</a></em>, the plaintiff found out the hard way that in Pennsylvania a signed waiver clause actually means something. The claim arose out of a slip and fall due to soapy water on the floor of the gym’s locker room.  LA fitness filed a motion for summary judgement on the basis of a broadly worded waiver of liability in the membership agreement the plaintiff signed.  Significantly, above the signature line the agreement stated, “By signing this Agreement, Buyer acknowledges that Buyer is of legal age, has received a filled-in and completed copy of this Agreement[,] has read and understands the entire agreement including but not limited to the . . . Release and Waiver of Liability and Indemnity, and other Additional Terms and Conditions on the reverse side hereof.”
The plaintiff put forward a myriad of arguments why the waiver should not apply: the agreement amounted to a contract of adhesion; the waiver was against public policy; and the waiver language was not conspicuous.  Although his signature was on the agreement, he could not recall if he actually read it prior to signing.  The Pennsylvania Superior Court was not persuaded.   The Court agreed that for a waiver to be valid “the clause must not contravene public policy. Secondly, the contract must be between persons relating entirely to their own private affairs and thirdly, each party must be a free bargaining agent to the agreement so that the contract is not one of adhesion.”
Turning to plaintiff’s adhesion argument, the Court stated that “[a]n adhesion contract is a ‘standard-form contract prepared by one party, to be signed by the party in a weaker position, usu[ally] a consumer, who adheres to the contract with little choice about the terms.” However, the Court found that a waiver involving the “use of a commercial facility for voluntary athletic or recreational activities is not considered a contract of adhesion because ‘[t]he signer is under no compulsion, economic or otherwise, to participate, much less to sign the exculpatory agreement, because it does not relate to essential services.’” Thus, if Toro did not like the LA Fitness’ terms he was not compelled to sign on the dotted line.
In regards to Toro’s public policy argument, the Court noted that Waiver Clauses “violate public policy only when they involve a matter of interest to the public or the state. Such matters of interest to the public or the state include the employer-employee relationship, public service, public utilities, common carriers, and hospitals.” The Superior Court further ruled that an agreement between private individuals or entities that do not address matters of interest to the public or state cannot be said to violate public policy.
Lastly, the Court was not swayed by the plaintiff’s memory lapse as to reading the contract before signing. The Court concluded that a “[f]ailure to read an agreement before signing it does not render the agreement either invalid or unenforceable.”  Moreover, above Toro’s signature was language that stated that by signing he agreed that he read it. WAIVER ENFORCED.
Thanks to Marcus Washington for his contribution.
For more information, contact Denise Fontana Ricci at <a href="mailto:dricci@wcmlaw.com"><u>dricci@wcmlaw.com</u></a>.

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