By Scott Middleton, Esq.
In addition to being an attorney here on Long Island, I’m an avid CrossFit Athlete and have been participating in CrossFit for over 18 months now. The benefits from this type of fitness regime have had a tremendous impact on me: overall better fitness and nutrition, coupled with a sense of camaraderie among fellow CrossFitters and especially in one’s own gym. It has helped me both personally and professionally.
With the rising popularity of CrossFit here on Long Island and across the country it’s important to understand the risks to gyms and fitness centers that host these high intensity exercises. As a business owner or operator it is imperative to know how to protect yourself. Therefore, the question becomes how a CrossFit business can protect itself and its employees from potential lawsuits.
In New York, General Obligations Law §5 – 326 was enacted to prevent amusement parks and recreational facilities from enforcing exculpatory clauses printed on admission tickets or membership applications.
The cases that followed the enactment of §5 – 326 have focused on several factors to determine whether a facility is instructional or recreational, including: the organization’s name, its certificate of incorporation, its statement of purpose and whether the money charged is tuition or a fee for use of the facility. If training sessions are instructional in nature but are ancillary to the recreational activities offered by the facility, GOL §5 – 326 will apply in the waiver/release will be unenforceable as it will be considered to be against public policy.
Anyone who participates in a CrossFit, at a reputable facility knows that most offer rather strenuous but free introductory class. These are generally small and under the instruction of the coach/trainer. This is followed by the “on-ramp” where would be cross-fitters are introduced to many of the basic exercises, under the supervision and close instructional scrutiny of a trainer. Once you “graduate” from the “on-ramp” you’re ready (or maybe not) for regular CrossFit classes. During the short but grueling workouts, coaches are present to instruct on both basic and complex exercises. They continuously critique and teach.
The common thread here is that instruction is present throughout all aspects of CrossFit. The level of involvement of the coaches/trainers in continually correcting movements during the workout creates an atmosphere that is instructional and cannot be considered to be recreational or an ancillary service of a recreational facility. Thus, New York’s General Obligations Law §5 – 326 would not apply to CrossFit facilities and the waiver is completely enforceable. This affords CrossFit gyms a level of protection not present in “big box” gyms.
As a courtesy, I’d happily review your waivers to avoid making unnecessary mistakes in their enforceability.