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Court Addresses Validity of Liability Waiver in New Hampshire Premises Liability Case

November 24, 2020

Recently, a court issued an opinion stemming from an accident a woman suffered at a New Hampshire gym. The woman filed a negligence claim against the gym, and in response, the fitness center moved to dismiss the case. According to the court’s opinion, the woman entered into a membership agreement (the agreement) with the gym. The agreement included a release of liability, which stated that the fitness center would not be liable for any injury resulting from its negligence or due to the negligence of anyone acting on the center’s behalf.

The case arose when the woman was exercising at the gym and walked towards a trash can to throw away a used towel. The woman tripped on uneven flooring, hitting an uncovered bolt from a chain-link fence. The woman broke her wrist and suffered a gash on her right arm. In response to the lawsuit, the gym argued that the agreement barred the plaintiff’s claim. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the release violates public policy. In the alternative, she claimed that a reasonable person would not understand the agreement to protect the gym from liability for the type of injuries she suffered.

Under New Hampshire law, exculpatory releases or liability of waivers are generally prohibited unless they are not contrary to public policy, and the release is specific and clear. Courts typically find releases to violate public policy if it interferes with public welfare or safety. Further, a policy may be invalid if there is apparent unfair bargaining power between the parties. Generally, exculpatory waivers in the recreational contexts are not invalid because recreation is not a “necessity.”

In this case, the court evaluated multiple factors before ultimately determining that the waiver was effective. Primarily, the court reviewed the plaintiff’s argument that because she was not exercising when the accident occurred, her injury was not connected to her use of the gym. However, the court reasoned that because her accident occurred when she was finishing up on the treadmill, the incident was related to her use of the gym. The court also addressed the plaintiff’s claim that the liability violated public policy because it absolved the fitness center from complying with building code. However, the court explained that the fact that a release of liability waives the right to bring a negligence action does not affect a statute’s enforcement. The court reasoned that the public’s interests were protected because the city has the authority to enforce the building code.

Have You Suffered Injuries While Participating in a Recreational Activity?

If you or someone you know has suffered injuries in a New Hampshire slip and fall accident, contact the attorneys at Peter Thompson & Associates to discuss your rights and remedies. Our dedicated attorneys have extensive experience representing clients’ rights in their claims for damages for injuries related to car crashes, injuries caused by dangerous products, incidents of medical malpractice, and more. Through our diligent representation, our clients have recovered significant compensation for their injuries and damages. Contact our law firm at 800-804-2004 to schedule a free initial consultation with a lawyer at our office.