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Signed waiver did not prevent negligence suit for injury at health club

On behalf of Jordan Blad at Alpert & Fellows

If you suffer personal injuries due to the negligence of a business owner, you should be entitled to compensation for your suffering. However, what if the business owner had you previously sign a document-or waiver-regarding the possibility of your injury? Could the business still be liable for your injuries?

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals considered this question in the context of a health club in the case of Brooten v. Hickok Rehabilitation Services.

A weight bench collapses

The victim was using a weight bench at a health club when the bench collapsed. The bench was designed so it could be used in a flat, inclined or declined position, and the victim was bench pressing in a flat position at the time.

A T-bar supporting the bench shifted, causing a sudden decline of the bench. According to a product support manager at the company who manufactured the bench, the T-bar should not have moved side to side, if installed properly with adequately tightened bolts.

The victim brought personal injury claims, but the health club had required the victim to sign a waiver form prior to using the facilities. Based on this waiver, the Circuit Court granted a summary judgment in favor of the health club-ending the case before the victim even had his full day in court. The victim appealed this ruling.

Did the signed waiver prevent recovery?

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals explained that its decision would depend on whether the waiver form relieved the health club of liability, and noted that such agreements are not favored under Wisconsin law.

Here, the court held that the liability waiver was invalid on several grounds. First, the waiver had been presented on a “take-it-or-leave-it” basis, a significant factor in determining that a waiver might violate public policy. Second, the waiver was very broad and all-inclusive. Not only did the clause cover claims of negligence, but also even claims related to reckless or intentional conduct, which also is against public policy. Finally, the form did not clearly or unambiguously inform the signer of what he or she was waiving, with some key language buried in the middle of the form’s text.

Therefore, the summary judgment of the Circuit Court was reversed and the case remanded. The victim would have another opportunity at his full day in court to recover for his injuries from the dangerous condition of the weight bench.

Holding those at fault accountable

If you are injured on the premises of a business, or even the property of another person, and that injury was caused by the other party’s negligence, you should consult with an experienced personal injury attorney, even if you signed an purported “waiver form.” Those responsible for your suffering should be held accountable.