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.”