Nearly everyone in New York is likely familiar with scenarios in which their participation in an activity has been contingent on signing a liability waiver. The need for such waivers may be understandable; there are certain actions that may carry with them inherent risks, and it may only make sense that participants realize that they assume those risks themselves. Yet activity providers should understand that liability waivers may only be limited to those potential dangers that arise from participation; unforeseen hazards may leave them exposed to liability claims.
A case recently argued in an Illinois federal court illustrates this fact. A patron of a local branch of a national chain of gyms (thus the federal court setting) had sued the company after he fell while using the bathroom at the facility. He claims that motion sensors in the bathroom shut the lights off while he was still inside a bathroom stall, and that kept him from seeing a puddle of water on the floor. Upon exiting the stall, he stepped in the water and fell. The accident left him with extensive injuries, including a concussion.
Representatives of the gym chain claimed that they were protected by the liability waiver that the man has signed when he started his membership. The judge hearing the case, however, disagreed, saying that having to walk through a dark bathroom was not something that the man should have known he might have encountered when he signed the waiver.
Accidents such as the one in this case may prompt activity providers to review both their liabilty waivers and their operations to address potential gaps in protection. If such gaps do leave a company exposed to liability, it might be wise to seek the assistance of an experienced attorney.