Release Does Not Bar Personal Injury Case Against Gym

A recent First Department decision, Kim v. Harry Hanson, Inc., illustrates the effectiveness – or, in this case, the lack thereof – of a release in a personal injury case that purports to limit an alleged tortfeasor’s liability.

In Kim,

Plaintiff sustained injuries while engaged in a personal training program, under a trainer’s supervision and instruction, at a one-on-one training facility owned and operated by defendant. Plaintiff alleges, inter alia, that the personal trainer negligently instructed and supervised him in the lifting of an excessive amount of weight.

Before training at defendant’s facility, plaintiff executed a release in which he acknowledged that there were “inherent risks in participating in a program of strenuous exercise” and released defendant from “all claims … which [he] … may have against [defendant] … for all injuries … which may occur in connection with [his] participation in the program.”

Initially, the court held that “General Obligations Law § 5-326 does not bar enforcement of this release as defendant’s facility is an instructional, and not a recreational, one.”

Turning to the language of the release itself, it held:

[T]he language of the release does not reflect a clear and unequivocal intent to limit liability for negligence. While the release warned of the risks inherent in undergoing a strenuous exercise program, it does not express[] any intention to exempt … defendant from liability for injury … which may result from [its] failure to use due care … in [its] training methods. … [T]he release does not purport to release defendant from all personal injury claims, whether or not based on the acts or omissions of [defendant], or contain other language conveying a similar import. (Emphasis in original.)

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