Sometimes your editorials come true: Even more so when they occurred in the past, and you found it later.

Universal Gym Equipment, Inc. v Vic Tanny International, Inc., 207 Mich. App. 364; 526 N.W.2d 5; 1994 Mich. App. LEXIS 443. 

I wrote an editorial for the SNEWS Law Review three years ago about having gyms, fitness clubs, incorporate the manufactures into their release to prevent lawsuits. See Do Health Clubs have a Duty to protect the Manufacturers of Health Club Equipment? In the lawsuit Universal Gym Equipment, Inc. v Vic Tanny International, Inc., 207 Mich. App. 364; 526 N.W.2d 5; 1994 Mich. App. LEXIS 443 the exact issue resulted in very expensive, extensive and complicated litigation.

In Universal Gym Equipment, Inc. v Vic Tanny International, Inc. a member of the defendant’s Vic Tanny’s gym was injured on a Universal piece of equipment. The membership agreement she signed with Vic Tanny included a release which precluded her from suing Vic Tanny. She sued and eventually settled with Universal for $225,000.

Universal then sued stating Vic Tanny had an obligation and failed “to maintain safe premises and had an obligation to indemnify against or to contribute toward any settlement between” Universal and the injured gym member. The first claim failure to maintain a safe premise would be Universals claim that Vic Tanny was responsible for the injuries that Universal wrote a $225,000 check for. Universal claimed that Vic Tanny was negligent and grossly negligent on this issue. The claim that they needed to indemnify or contribute would then be derivative of the safe premises claim.

Vic Tanny won a motion for summary judgment because they claimed because they could not be liable to the original injured member because of the release; they could not be liable to Universal in this suit. However, the appellate court did not see things the same way the trial court had and reversed the trial court.
Here is where this case takes on new directions in an attempt to recover money and in at least one case, destroy any future defenses the parties may have. Universal argues in the case that the release signed by the injured member, who is now being used by Vic Tanny as a defense against Universal in this case, was not effective against a claim of gross negligence.

Eventually, this argument has got to come back and haunt Universal when they are faced with the next lawsuit where they may have a release to protect them. The court agreed with them, which now ads Michigan to the list of states where a release is not a bar to a gross negligence claim. Now, Michigan plaintiffs can simply allege gross negligence in a suit and take a case to trial.

The court ruled that Universal could not recover from Vic Tanny on its contribution claim because of a Michigan statute that prohibited it. However, the court reviewed the case law from other states and decided that those courts would have held Vic Tanny liable. Sommer v Federal Signal Corp, 79 N.Y.2d 540, 554; 583 N.Y.S.2d 957; 593 N.E.2d 1365 (1992)

As we editorialized in Do Health Clubs have a Duty to protect the Manufacturer’s of Health Club Equipment? A health club release that would have included the manufactures, as a protected party, would have probably been protected would have prevented this litigation.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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