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Health club can’t enforce injury waiver, rules Wis. Court of Appeals

Health club can’t enforce injury waiver, rules Wis. Court of Appeals

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A health and fitness club could not enforce an exculpatory waiver that a member signed when he joined the club, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals has ruled in reversing a dismissal.

The plaintiff was a member of the defendant’s health club. According to the plaintiff, he sustained injuries when a weight bench collapsed from a flat position to a decline position while he was performing a bench press. The plaintiff sued the defendant for negligence, alleging that the weight bench had not been properly assembled.

The defendant contended that the plaintiff’s personal injury suit was barred by an exculpatory waiver that the plaintiff signed when he became a member.

But the court concluded that the waiver was contrary to public policy and, therefore, void and unenforceable.

“It is well-settled that an exculpatory clause may only release claims of negligence; it cannot, under any circumstances — bargained or not — preclude claims based on reckless or intentional conduct….

“The scope of [the defendant’s] waiver is as broad or broader than the waivers that have been rejected by previous Wisconsin courts on such a basis. The waiver’s scope extends well beyond negligence claims. For example, the waiver states that ‘[inherent] risks and dangers may be caused by … negligence[,] accidents, breaches of contract, or other causes.’ Participants assumed all risks ‘whether caused in whole or in part by the negligence or the conduct of … [the club]’ and waived ‘any and all claims’ including ‘any claims … for the negligent acts or other conduct of … [the club].’ Finally, the form required participants to waive ‘LIABILITY FOR PERSONAL INJURY, PROPERTY DAMAGE OR WRONGFUL DEATH CAUSED BY NEGLIGENCE OR ANY OTHER CAUSE.,’” the court wrote.

Wisconsin Court of Appeals. Brooten v. Hickok Rehabilitation Services, No. 2012AP1940. April 30, 2013.


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