New Jersey holds that if you signed the release, you are held to its terms even if you cannot read English.

There was a ton of issues that in many states might have voided the release, 8 pt font, missing initial and the plaintiff not understanding English were just a few of them.

Citation: Kang v. LA Fitness, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 179934, 2016 WL 7476354

State: New Jersey, United States District Court, D. New Jersey

Plaintiff: Soon Ja Kang

Defendant: LA Fitness, LA Fitness of South Plainfield, John Does 1-5, et al.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: for the Defendant

Year: 2016

Summary

If you sign the membership agreement containing a release in New Jersey, you are held to the terms of the release, even if you can’t speak or read English. Plaintiff could not read or speak English, signed LA Fitness membership agreement and could not sue after she was injured on a piece of equipment.

Facts

Fitness International, LLC d/b/a LA Fitness (incorrectly designated as LA Fitness of South Plainfield) (“LA Fitness”) operates a fitness facility located in Piscataway, NJ. See Final Pretrial Order Stipulation of Facts. On December 30, 2013, plaintiff Soon Ja Kang went to LA Fitness with her husband to sign up for membership.

On December 31, 2013, Kang was injured while working out on a chin/dip assist pull up machine at LA Fitness’s Piscataway location. She filed the instant action on September 29, 2014 in state court, and LA Fitness filed a notice of removal in this Court on November 14, 2014 on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. The complaint alleges that Kang was injured as a result of negligence on the part of LA Fitness. Id. Prior to completion of expert discovery, LA Fitness moved for summary judgment on the issue of whether the waiver and liability provision bars the instant action.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The court started its analysis by looking at the release and the injury the plaintiff suffered. The court found the injury fell within the confines of the release.

As her negligence claim for an injury allegedly sustained while using a piece of workout equipment at an LA Fitness facility clearly falls within the ambit of the liability waiver, the issue becomes whether the waiver itself is enforceable against Kang on the facts of this case.

The issue then became whether or not the release applied to someone who did not speak or read English. Releases in New Jersey are enforceable if:

…(1) it does not adversely affect the public interest; (2) the exculpated party is not under a legal duty to perform; (3) it does not involve a public utility or common carrier; or (4) the contract does not grow out of unequal bargaining power or is otherwise unconscionable.

The court throughout the third factor because the defendant was not a public utility or common carrier. The court then reviewed whether the exculpatory clause affected the public interest. The court found it did not.

[W]e are satisfied that, at least with respect to equipment being used at the club in the course of an exercise class or other athletic activity, the exculpatory agreement’s disclaimer of liability for ordinary negligence is reasonable and not offensive to public policy.

There seemed to be somewhat of a limit to the release based on the courts next comment about the reach of the release.

The Court agrees with the analysis in Stelluti and finds that the exculpatory clause here does not adversely affect the public interest, at least to the extent that it purports to exculpate LA Fitness with respect to acts or omissions amounting to ordinary negligence.

The plaintiff then argued the release violates the New Jersey Plain Language Act. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 56:12-2. The act requires a consumer contract to be “written in a simple, clear, understandable and easily readable way.”

The plaintiff then argued the act was violated because the print size (font) was 8 points, and the margins of the paper were .5″ “reflecting the intentions of the drafter to squeeze in additional words.”

Reviewing examples of bad language found in the act, the court determined the release did not violate the Plain Language Act.

Reviewing Kang’s membership agreement in light of the above guidelines, the Court finds that the waiver provision does not violate the New Jersey Plain Language Act. The waiver provision does not contain any cross references, nor does it contain any double negatives or exceptions to exceptions. It does not contain words with obsolete meanings, nor is it clouded by the use of Old English, Middle English, Latin or French phrases. And Kang does not argue-nor does the Court find-that the sentences of the waiver provision are set forth in a confusing or illogical order.

The next issue was there any legal duty to perform on the part of the defendant part 2 of the four requirements.

There were no state statutes or regulation’s setting standards for fitness facilities. The plaintiff argued that National Associations had created standards that applied to fitness facilities. However, the court could not find that to be valid. “However, there is no indication that these national standards apply with the force of law in New Jersey so as to constitute public policy of the state.”

The final argument was the release was unconscionable because of unequal bargaining power between the plaintiff and defendant.

Kang argues that the waiver was invalid for lack of mutual assent, based upon the following assertions: (1) Neither Kang nor her husband speaks English; (2) LA Fitness knew as much, as the Kangs’ daughter was present to translate; (3) an LA Fitness employee explained the contract duration and payment terms to the Kangs’ daughter, but did not explain the liability waiver to her; (4) only Kang’s husband was asked to initial next to the waiver provision in his membership agreement, but no one explained to him what he was initialing; and (5) no employee went over the waiver provision with Kang or her daughter.

The court did not agree with any of the plaintiffs’ arguments. And stated in clear language that the plaintiff’s inability to speak English did not stop her from becoming bound to the terms of the release.

As an initial matter, Kang’s inability to speak English does not bar her from becoming contractually bound. Notwithstanding the fact that her daughter was present to translate, New Jersey courts have unequivocally held that in the absence of fraud, one who signs an agreement is conclusively presumed to understand and assent to its terms and legal effect:

The court went on to explain that if you sign the agreement, you are bound to the terms of the agreement, whether or not you understood the agreement.

In the absence of fraud or imposition, when one fails to read a contract before signing it, the provisions are nevertheless binding, and the party is conclusively presumed to understand and assent to its terms and legal effect . . . . Even illiterate individuals have been held bound by a signed contract in the absence of misrepresentation. One who signs a document in those circumstances should know its contents or have it read (or otherwise have the contents made known) to him or her.

The final issue was the missing initial in the document. Because she had signed the agreement, the signature at the bottom of the agreement was all that was needed for the release to be valid.

Finally, the Court is not aware of, nor has Kang cited, any requirement that she must have initialed the waiver provision for that clause to be enforceable against her. While she did not initial the waiver provision, she did sign the membership agreement containing it. In the absence of fraud, that is enough to bind her to its terms.

The plaintiff then argued the release and fitness contract containing the release were unconscionable. The court summed up the plaintiffs’ unconscionable argument as an amalgamation of all of her other arguments. The court found the exculpatory clause did not offend public policy, and the other arguments for unconscionability did not change the release validity.

Kang was a layperson without any specialized knowledge of exculpatory contracts, and the Court gives her the benefit of the inference that LA Fitness did not explain the legal effect of the waiver provision to her. However, also like the defendant in Stelluti, Kang was not under any undue pressure to execute the agreement and she could have sought advice before signing. Indeed, her daughter was present to translate. As noted above, the fact that Kang does not speak English does have any legal effect on the contract’s enforceability. Thus, in accordance with Stelluti, the Court finds that although the LA Fitness membership agreement may have been offered on a “take-it-or-leave-it” basis, it is not void on the basis of unconscionability.

The motion for summary judgment of the defendant was granted the plaintiff’s claims dismissed.

So Now What?

New Jersey is another state that upholds the idea that if you sign a release, you are bound to the terms of the release no matter if you could understand the release, the type was too small; you did not read or speak English, or you just want out of the release.

At the same time, this list from my studies has only two states on it, California being the other state. See Balloon ride in California is not a common carrier, and the release signed by the plaintiff bars the plaintiff’s claims even though she did not read or speak English.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2019 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FB, Twitter or LinkedIn

If you are interested in having me write your release, fill out this Information Form and Contract and send it to me.

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

To Purchase Go Here:

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Email: Jim@Rec-Law.US

By Recreation Law    Rec-law@recreation-law.com    James H. Moss

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #SkiLaw,


Kang v. LA Fitness, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 179934, 2016 WL 7476354

Kang v. LA Fitness, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 179934, 2016 WL 7476354

Soon Ja Kang Plaintiff,

LA Fitness, LA Fitness of South Plainfield, John Does 1-5, et al., Defendants.

Civil No. 2:14-cv-07147 (KSH) (CLW)

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 29, 2016

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Katharine S. Hayden, U.S.D.J.

Before the Court is defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to the validity and enforceability of an exculpatory clause in a fitness center membership agreement with plaintiff. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds the liability waiver to be valid and enforceable and defendants’ motion is granted.

I. Background

Fitness International, LLC d/b/a LA Fitness (incorrectly designated as LA Fitness of South Plainfield) (“LA Fitness”) operates a fitness facility located in Piscataway, NJ. See Final Pretrial Order Stipulation of Facts (“SOF”) (D.E. 19), at ¶ 1. On December 30, 2013, plaintiff Soon Ja Kang went to LA Fitness with her husband to sign up for membership. Id. at ¶ 2. The membership agreement she signed states in relevant part:

IMPORTANT: RELEASE AND WAIVER OF LIABILITY AND INDEMNITY. You hereby acknowledge and agree that use by Member and/or Member’s minor children of LA Fitness’ facilities, services, equipment or premises, involves risks of injury to persons and property, including those described below, and Member assumes full responsibility for such risks. In consideration of Member and Member’s minor children being permitted to enter any facility of LA Fitness (a “Club”) for any purpose including, but not limited to, observation, use of facilities, services or equipment, or participation in any way, Member agrees to the following: Member hereby releases and holds LA Fitness, its directors, officers, employees, and agents harmless from all liability to Member, Member’s children and Member’s personal representatives, assigns, heirs, and next of kin for any loss or damage, and forever gives up any claim or demands therefore, on account of injury to Member’s person or property, including injury leading to the death of Member, whether caused by the active or passive negligence of LA Fitness or otherwise, to the fullest extent permitted by law, while Member or Member’s minor children are in, upon, or about LA Fitness’ premises or using any LA Fitness facilities, services or equipment. Member also hereby agrees to indemnify LA Fitness from any loss, liability, damage or cost LA Fitness may incur due to the presence of Member or Member’s children in, upon or about the LA Fitness premises or in any way observing or using any facilities or equipment of LA Fitness whether caused by the negligence of Member(s) or otherwise. You represent (a) that Member and Member’s minor children are in good physical condition and have no disability, illness, or other condition that could prevent Member(s) from exercising without injury or impairment of health, and (b) that Member has consulted a physician concerning an exercise program that will not risk injury to Member or impairment of Member’s health. Such risk of injury includes (but is not limited to): injuries arising from use by Member or others of exercise equipment and machines; injuries arising from participation by Member or others in supervised or unsupervised activities or programs at a Club; injuries and medical disorders arising from exercising at a Club such as heart attacks, strokes, heat stress, sprains, broken bones, and torn muscles and ligaments, among others; and accidental injuries occurring anywhere in Club dressing rooms, showers and other facilities. Member further expressly agrees that the foregoing release, waiver and indemnity agreement is intended to be as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the law of the State of New Jersey and that if any portion thereof is held invalid, it is agreed that the balance shall, notwithstanding, continue in full force and effect. Member has read this release and waiver of liability and indemnity clause, and agrees that no oral representations, statements or inducement apart from this Agreement has been made.

LA Fitness Moving Br., Exh. E (D.E. 22-7).

Kang and her husband do not read or understand English, but their daughter was present to translate for them when they signed up. See SOF, at ¶¶ 4-5. Kang signed a membership agreement. She did not initial next to the waiver and liability provision in her membership agreement; however, her husband was asked to initial next to the same provision in his membership agreement, and he did so. Id. at ¶ 6.

On December 31, 2013, Kang was injured while working out on a chin/dip assist pull up machine at LA Fitness’s Piscataway location. See SOF, at ¶¶ 2, 7. She filed the instant action on September 29, 2014 in state court, and LA Fitness filed a notice of removal in this Court on November 14, 2014 on the basis of diversity jurisdiction (D.E. 1). The complaint alleges that Kang was injured as a result of negligence on the part of LA Fitness. Id. Prior to completion of expert discovery, LA Fitness moved for summary judgment on the issue of whether the waiver and liability provision bars the instant action. The motion was fully briefed. (D.E. 22, 25, 26).

The Court makes its decision on the paper.

II. Discussion

A. Standard

Summary judgment is warranted where the moving party demonstrates that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), (c). The parties have conducted discovery on the circumstances surrounding the formation of Kang’s membership agreement and, as set forth in the analysis below, all facts relevant to the enforceability of the waiver provision are essentially undisputed as set forth in the Final Pretrial Order Stipulation of Facts (D.E. 19). In determining whether the waiver provision is enforceable as a matter of law, the Court “view[s] the evidence in the light most favorable to [Kang] and draw[s] all justifiable, reasonable inferences in [her] favor.” Sgro v. Bloomberg L.P., 331 F.Appx. 932, 937 (3d Cir. 2009).

B. Analysis

Pursuant to the release and waiver of liability provision in her membership agreement, Kang released and held LA Fitness harmless for all injuries she might suffer “whether caused by the active or passive negligence of LA Fitness or otherwise, ” while she was “in, upon, or about LA Fitness’ premises or using any LA Fitness facilities, services or equipment.” LA Fitness Moving Br., Exh. E (D.E. 22-7). As her negligence claim for an injury allegedly sustained while using a piece of workout equipment at an LA Fitness facility clearly falls within the ambit of the liability waiver, the issue becomes whether the waiver itself is enforceable against Kang on the facts of this case.

In Stelluti v. Casapenn Enterprises, LLC, 408 N.J.Super. 435, 454 (App. Div. 2009), aff’d, 203 N.J. 286 (2010), the New Jersey Appellate Division addressed the enforceability of exculpatory releases in fitness center membership agreements:

Such a release is enforceable only if: (1) it does not adversely affect the public interest; (2) the exculpated party is not under a legal duty to perform; (3) it does not involve a public utility or common carrier; or (4) the contract does not grow out of unequal bargaining power or is otherwise unconscionable.

Id. The third factor is inapplicable here, because LA Fitness is not a public utility or common carrier. See Kang Opp. Br., at p. 6. The Court analyzes the remaining Stelluti factors in turn.

1. Does the Exculpatory Clause Adversely Affect the Public Interest?

LA Fitness argues that the exculpatory clause in this case does not adversely affect the public interest because it is “a facility that encourages New Jersey’s public policy promoting physical fitness.” LA Fitness Moving Br., at p. 6. Noting the important policy objective of promoting public health, the Stelutti court held:

[W]e are satisfied that, at least with respect to equipment being used at the club in the course of an exercise class or other athletic activity, the exculpatory agreement’s disclaimer of liability for ordinary negligence is reasonable and not offensive to public policy.

Stelluti, 408 N.J.Super. at 459. The Court agrees with the analysis in Stelluti and finds that the exculpatory clause here does not adversely affect the public interest, at least to the extent that it purports to exculpate LA Fitness with respect to acts or omissions amounting to ordinary negligence.

Kang argues that public policy promoting physical fitness “cannot counteract the other public policy reasons that are in place to protect against improper liability waivers.” Kang Opp. Br., at p. 7. To that end, she argues that the release in this case violates the New Jersey Plain Language Act, which states that “[a] consumer contract entered into on or after the effective date of this amendatory and supplementary act shall be written in a simple, clear, understandable and easily readable way.” N.J. Stat. Ann. § 56:12-2. Specifically, Kang argues that the small font size and margins in the contract are such that “[s]omeone who can read and understand English would be substantially confused by this agreement[.]” Kang Opp. Br., at p. 8.

To determine whether the waiver provision violates the Plain Language Act, the Court turns to the plain language of the act itself. Section 56:12-10 provides:

To insure that a consumer contract shall be simple, clear, understandable and easily readable, the following are examples of guidelines that a court . . . may consider in determining whether a consumer contract as a whole complies with this act:

(1) Cross references that are confusing;

(2) Sentences that are of greater length than necessary;

(3) Sentences that contain double negatives and exceptions to exceptions;

(4) Sentences and sections that are in a confusing or illogical order;

(5) The use of words with obsolete meanings or words that differ in their legal meaning from their common ordinary meaning;

(6) Frequent use of Old English and Middle English words and Latin and French phrases.

N.J. Stat. Ann. § 56:12-10. Section 56:12-10 further provides:

The following are examples of guidelines that a court . . . may consider in determining whether the consumer contract as a whole complies with this act:

(1) Sections shall be logically divided and captioned;

(2) A table of contents or alphabetical index shall be used for all contracts with more than 3, 000 words;

(3) Conditions and exceptions to the main promise of the agreement shall be given equal prominence with the main promise, and shall be in at least 10 point type.

Id. A Court has discretion as to how much consideration should be given to the above-listed statutory guidelines in finding a violation of the act. See Boddy v. Cigna Prop. & Cas. Companies, 334 N.J.Super. 649, 655 (App. Div. 2000).

Reviewing Kang’s membership agreement in light of the above guidelines, the Court finds that the waiver provision does not violate the New Jersey Plain Language Act. The waiver provision does not contain any cross references, nor does it contain any double negatives or exceptions to exceptions. It does not contain words with obsolete meanings, nor is it clouded by the use of Old English, Middle English, Latin or French phrases. And Kang does not argue-nor does the Court find-that the sentences of the waiver provision are set forth in a confusing or illogical order.

Instead, Kang argues that the waiver provision violates the Plain Language Act because “[t]he size of the font (print) is about size 8, whereas the standard size used in everyday documents is size 12[, ]” and because “[t]he margins on the sides of the pages are about 0.5 inch . . . reflecting the intentions of the drafter to squeeze in additional words.” Kang Opp. Br., at p. 8. However, applying the above guidelines, the Court does not find that the waiver provision in this case is any less prominent that the remainder of the agreement. See N.J. Stat. Ann. § 56:12-10b(3). To the contrary, the waiver and liability provision is the only clause in the membership agreement preceded by a title in all caps (“IMPORTANT: RELEASE AND WAIVER OF LIABILITY AND INDEMNITY”), and it is the only clause that is fully enclosed by a border, creating a visual separation between the waiver and the rest of the agreement.

The Court finds that the waiver provision in this case does not offend public policy under Stelluti and does not otherwise violate the New Jersey Plain Language Act.

2. Is LA Fitness Under a Legal Duty To Perform?

LA Fitness argues that its relationship with Kang does not create any duties prescribed by statute or regulation. See LA Fitness Moving Br., at pp. 6-8. New Jersey courts have found liability waivers to be invalid as against public policy where they conflict with legislatively imposed duties. For example, in Hy-Grade Oil Co. v. New Jersey Bank, 138 N.J.Super. 112, 118 (App. Div. 1975), the court found it against public policy for a bank to exculpate itself from liability or responsibility for negligence in the performance of its function as a night depository service, in part due to the “extensive statutory regulations covering every phase of the banking business[.]” Id. at 118. Similarly, in McCarthy v. Nat’l Ass’n for Stock Car Auto Racing, Inc., 48 N.J. 539, 543 (1967), the New Jersey Supreme Court held a liability waiver invalid as against public policy because it purported to contract away safety requirements prescribed by statute dealing with motor vehicle racing. See id. at 543 (“[t]he prescribed safety requirements may not be contracted away, for if they could be the salient protective purposes of the legislation would largely be nullified”).

Kang argues that “although there are no statutes specific to fitness centers, there are several national associations that have established standards that apply to the fitness industry[.]” Kang Opp. Br., at pp. 8-9. However, there is no indication that these national standards apply with the force of law in New Jersey so as to constitute public policy of the state. Kang further argues that the Stelluti court acknowledged the well-established duties of care that New Jersey business owners owe to patrons that enter their premises. See Kang Opp. Br., at p. 8. However, as noted above in Part B.1. supra, Stelluti expressly held that fitness center liability waivers such as the one at issue here do not violate public policy at least to the extent that they exculpate for ordinary negligence. Stelluti, 408 N.J.Super. at 459. The Court finds that LA Fitness is not under any legal duty that precludes its reliance on the liability waiver in this case.

3. Does the Contract Grow Out of Unequal Bargaining Power or is it Otherwise Unconscionable?

With respect to the final Stelluti factor, Kang argues that the waiver: (1) was not the product of mutual assent; and (2) is unconscionable as a term in a contract of adhesion. See Kang Opp. Br., at pp. 10-14. The Court addresses both arguments in turn.

a. Mutual Assent

Kang argues that the waiver was invalid for lack of mutual assent, based upon the following assertions: (1) Neither Kang nor her husband speaks English; (2) LA Fitness knew as much, as the Kangs’ daughter was present to translate; (3) an LA Fitness employee explained the contract duration and payment terms to the Kangs’ daughter, but did not explain the liability waiver to her; (4) only Kang’s husband was asked to initial next to the waiver provision in his membership agreement, but no one explained to him what he was initialing; and (5) no employee went over the waiver provision with Kang or her daughter. See Kang Opp. Br., at pp. 10-11. Accordingly, Kang argues that she did not “clearly, unequivocally, and decisively surrender[ ] her rights” as is required for a valid waiver. Id. at p. 11.

The Court finds these arguments unavailing. As an initial matter, Kang’s inability to speak English does not bar her from becoming contractually bound. Notwithstanding the fact that her daughter was present to translate, New Jersey courts have unequivocally held that in the absence of fraud, one who signs an agreement is conclusively presumed to understand and assent to its terms and legal effect:

In the absence of fraud or imposition, when one fails to read a contract before signing it, the provisions are nevertheless binding, and the party is conclusively presumed to understand and assent to its terms and legal effect . . . . Even illiterate individuals have been held bound by a signed contract in the absence of misrepresentation. One who signs a document in those circumstances should know its contents or have it read (or otherwise have the contents made known) to him or her.

Statewide Realty Co. v. Fid. Mgmt. & Research Co., 259 N.J.Super. 59, 73 (Law. Div. 1992) (internal citations and quotations omitted); see also Herrera v. Twp. of S. Orange Vill., 270 N.J.Super. 417, 423, 637 (App. Div. 1993) (enforcing release agreement in the absence of fraud, notwithstanding testimony by plaintiff that she did not understand the release because she could not read English).

Under the New Jersey case law cited above, absent allegations of fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation which Kang does not make here, she is conclusively presumed to have understood and assented to the membership agreement’s terms-including the waiver-and legal effect. See Stelluti v. Casapenn Enterprises, LLC, 203 N.J. 286, 305 (2010) (“Although Stelluti argues that she did not know what she was signing, she does not claim that she signed the waiver form as the result of fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. Therefore, the trial court was well within reason to presume that she understood the terms of the agreement . . . and the finding to that effect is unassailable.”)

Nor does the fact that LA Fitness may not have explained the waiver to her or her daughter preclude enforcement. See Stelluti v. Casapenn Enterprises, LLC, 203 N.J. 286, 301- 02 (2010) (enforcing exculpatory clause while giving plaintiff benefit of inference that “Powerhouse may not have explained to Stelluti the legal effect of the contract that released Powerhouse from liability”).

Finally, the Court is not aware of, nor has Kang cited, any requirement that she must have initialed the waiver provision for that clause to be enforceable against her. While she did not initial the waiver provision, she did sign the membership agreement containing it. In the absence of fraud, that is enough to bind her to its terms. See Statewide, 259 N.J.Super. at 73.

b. Unconscionability

Kang also argues that even if the waiver is found to be enforceable, the Court should invalidate it as a contract of adhesion. “[T]he essential nature of a contract of adhesion is that it is presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, commonly in a standardized printed form, without the opportunity for the ‘adhering’ party to negotiate except perhaps on a few particulars.” Rudbart v. N. Jersey Dist. Water Supply Comm’n, 127 N.J. 344, 353, 605 A.2d 681, 685 (1992). Kang’s unconscionability argument is essentially an amalgamation of all of her arguments summarized above: that as someone who does not speak English she lacked the sophistication to understand the terms to which she was agreeing, LA Fitness knew that she was in no position to understand those terms, she did not initial next to the waiver provision, the waiver is one-sided and printed on a standard form agreement, and she was not in a position to negotiate the terms of the agreement. Kang Opp. Br., at pp. 12-14.

Notably, not all contracts of adhesion are unenforceable. In Stelluti, the New Jersey Supreme Court held:

Here, Powerhouse’s agreement was a standard pre-printed form presented to Stelluti and other prospective members on a typical ‘take-it-or-leave-it basis.’ No doubt, this agreement was one of adhesion. As for the relative bargaining positions of the parties, . . . we assume that Stelluti was a layperson without any specialized knowledge about contracts generally or exculpatory ones specifically. Giving her the benefit of all inferences from the record, including that Powerhouse may not have explained to Stelluti the legal effect of the contract that released Powerhouse from liability, we nevertheless do not regard her in a classic ‘position of unequal bargaining power’ such that the contract must be voided. As the Appellate Division decision noted, Stelluti could have taken her business to another fitness club, could have found another means of exercise aside from joining a private gym, or could have thought about it and even sought advice before signing up and using the facility’s equipment. No time limitation was imposed on her ability to review and consider whether to sign the agreement. In sum, although the terms of the agreement were presented ‘as is’ to Stelluti, rendering this a fairly typical adhesion contract in its procedural aspects, we hold that the agreement was not void based on any notion of procedural unconscionability.

Stelluti v. Casapenn Enterprises, LLC, 203 N.J. 286, 301-02 (2010).

Like the defendant in Stelluti, Kang was a layperson without any specialized knowledge of exculpatory contracts, and the Court gives her the benefit of the inference that LA Fitness did not explain the legal effect of the waiver provision to her. However, also like the defendant in Stelluti, Kang was not under any undue pressure to execute the agreement and she could have sought advice before signing. Indeed, her daughter was present to translate. As noted above, the fact that Kang does not speak English does have any legal effect on the contract’s enforceability. Thus, in accordance with Stelluti, the Court finds that although the LA Fitness membership agreement may have been offered on a “take-it-or-leave-it” basis, it is not void on the basis of unconscionability.

Because the exculpatory clause does not offend public policy, the Court finds it to be valid and enforceable. Accordingly, LA Fitness’s motion for summary judgment is granted.

III. Conclusion

For the foregoing reasons, defendants’ motion for summary judgment is granted, and the clerk of the court is direct to close this case. An accompanying Order will be filed.


Kang v. LA Fitness, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 179934, 2016 WL 7476354

Kang v. LA Fitness, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 179934, 2016 WL 7476354

Soon Ja Kang Plaintiff,

LA Fitness, LA Fitness of South Plainfield, John Does 1-5, et al., Defendants.

Civil No. 2:14-cv-07147 (KSH) (CLW)

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 29, 2016

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Katharine S. Hayden, U.S.D.J.

Before the Court is defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to the validity and enforceability of an exculpatory clause in a fitness center membership agreement with plaintiff. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds the liability waiver to be valid and enforceable and defendants’ motion is granted.

I. Background

Fitness International, LLC d/b/a LA Fitness (incorrectly designated as LA Fitness of South Plainfield) (“LA Fitness”) operates a fitness facility located in Piscataway, NJ. See Final Pretrial Order Stipulation of Facts (“SOF”) (D.E. 19), at ¶ 1. On December 30, 2013, plaintiff Soon Ja Kang went to LA Fitness with her husband to sign up for membership. Id. at ¶ 2. The membership agreement she signed states in relevant part:

IMPORTANT: RELEASE AND WAIVER OF LIABILITY AND INDEMNITY. You hereby acknowledge and agree that use by Member and/or Member’s minor children of LA Fitness’ facilities, services, equipment or premises, involves risks of injury to persons and property, including those described below, and Member assumes full responsibility for such risks. In consideration of Member and Member’s minor children being permitted to enter any facility of LA Fitness (a “Club”) for any purpose including, but not limited to, observation, use of facilities, services or equipment, or participation in any way, Member agrees to the following: Member hereby releases and holds LA Fitness, its directors, officers, employees, and agents harmless from all liability to Member, Member’s children and Member’s personal representatives, assigns, heirs, and next of kin for any loss or damage, and forever gives up any claim or demands therefore, on account of injury to Member’s person or property, including injury leading to the death of Member, whether caused by the active or passive negligence of LA Fitness or otherwise, to the fullest extent permitted by law, while Member or Member’s minor children are in, upon, or about LA Fitness’ premises or using any LA Fitness facilities, services or equipment. Member also hereby agrees to indemnify LA Fitness from any loss, liability, damage or cost LA Fitness may incur due to the presence of Member or Member’s children in, upon or about the LA Fitness premises or in any way observing or using any facilities or equipment of LA Fitness whether caused by the negligence of Member(s) or otherwise. You represent (a) that Member and Member’s minor children are in good physical condition and have no disability, illness, or other condition that could prevent Member(s) from exercising without injury or impairment of health, and (b) that Member has consulted a physician concerning an exercise program that will not risk injury to Member or impairment of Member’s health. Such risk of injury includes (but is not limited to): injuries arising from use by Member or others of exercise equipment and machines; injuries arising from participation by Member or others in supervised or unsupervised activities or programs at a Club; injuries and medical disorders arising from exercising at a Club such as heart attacks, strokes, heat stress, sprains, broken bones, and torn muscles and ligaments, among others; and accidental injuries occurring anywhere in Club dressing rooms, showers and other facilities. Member further expressly agrees that the foregoing release, waiver and indemnity agreement is intended to be as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the law of the State of New Jersey and that if any portion thereof is held invalid, it is agreed that the balance shall, notwithstanding, continue in full force and effect. Member has read this release and waiver of liability and indemnity clause, and agrees that no oral representations, statements or inducement apart from this Agreement has been made.

LA Fitness Moving Br., Exh. E (D.E. 22-7).

Kang and her husband do not read or understand English, but their daughter was present to translate for them when they signed up. See SOF, at ¶¶ 4-5. Kang signed a membership agreement. She did not initial next to the waiver and liability provision in her membership agreement; however, her husband was asked to initial next to the same provision in his membership agreement, and he did so. Id. at ¶ 6.

On December 31, 2013, Kang was injured while working out on a chin/dip assist pull up machine at LA Fitness’s Piscataway location. See SOF, at ¶¶ 2, 7. She filed the instant action on September 29, 2014 in state court, and LA Fitness filed a notice of removal in this Court on November 14, 2014 on the basis of diversity jurisdiction (D.E. 1). The complaint alleges that Kang was injured as a result of negligence on the part of LA Fitness. Id. Prior to completion of expert discovery, LA Fitness moved for summary judgment on the issue of whether the waiver and liability provision bars the instant action. The motion was fully briefed. (D.E. 22, 25, 26).

The Court makes its decision on the paper.

II. Discussion

A. Standard

Summary judgment is warranted where the moving party demonstrates that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), (c). The parties have conducted discovery on the circumstances surrounding the formation of Kang’s membership agreement and, as set forth in the analysis below, all facts relevant to the enforceability of the waiver provision are essentially undisputed as set forth in the Final Pretrial Order Stipulation of Facts (D.E. 19). In determining whether the waiver provision is enforceable as a matter of law, the Court “view[s] the evidence in the light most favorable to [Kang] and draw[s] all justifiable, reasonable inferences in [her] favor.” Sgro v. Bloomberg L.P., 331 F.Appx. 932, 937 (3d Cir. 2009).

B. Analysis

Pursuant to the release and waiver of liability provision in her membership agreement, Kang released and held LA Fitness harmless for all injuries she might suffer “whether caused by the active or passive negligence of LA Fitness or otherwise, ” while she was “in, upon, or about LA Fitness’ premises or using any LA Fitness facilities, services or equipment.” LA Fitness Moving Br., Exh. E (D.E. 22-7). As her negligence claim for an injury allegedly sustained while using a piece of workout equipment at an LA Fitness facility clearly falls within the ambit of the liability waiver, the issue becomes whether the waiver itself is enforceable against Kang on the facts of this case.

In Stelluti v. Casapenn Enterprises, LLC, 408 N.J.Super. 435, 454 (App. Div. 2009), aff’d, 203 N.J. 286 (2010), the New Jersey Appellate Division addressed the enforceability of exculpatory releases in fitness center membership agreements:

Such a release is enforceable only if: (1) it does not adversely affect the public interest; (2) the exculpated party is not under a legal duty to perform; (3) it does not involve a public utility or common carrier; or (4) the contract does not grow out of unequal bargaining power or is otherwise unconscionable.

Id. The third factor is inapplicable here, because LA Fitness is not a public utility or common carrier. See Kang Opp. Br., at p. 6. The Court analyzes the remaining Stelluti factors in turn.

1. Does the Exculpatory Clause Adversely Affect the Public Interest?

LA Fitness argues that the exculpatory clause in this case does not adversely affect the public interest because it is “a facility that encourages New Jersey’s public policy promoting physical fitness.” LA Fitness Moving Br., at p. 6. Noting the important policy objective of promoting public health, the Stelutti court held:

[W]e are satisfied that, at least with respect to equipment being used at the club in the course of an exercise class or other athletic activity, the exculpatory agreement’s disclaimer of liability for ordinary negligence is reasonable and not offensive to public policy.

Stelluti, 408 N.J.Super. at 459. The Court agrees with the analysis in Stelluti and finds that the exculpatory clause here does not adversely affect the public interest, at least to the extent that it purports to exculpate LA Fitness with respect to acts or omissions amounting to ordinary negligence.

Kang argues that public policy promoting physical fitness “cannot counteract the other public policy reasons that are in place to protect against improper liability waivers.” Kang Opp. Br., at p. 7. To that end, she argues that the release in this case violates the New Jersey Plain Language Act, which states that “[a] consumer contract entered into on or after the effective date of this amendatory and supplementary act shall be written in a simple, clear, understandable and easily readable way.” N.J. Stat. Ann. § 56:12-2. Specifically, Kang argues that the small font size and margins in the contract are such that “[s]omeone who can read and understand English would be substantially confused by this agreement[.]” Kang Opp. Br., at p. 8.

To determine whether the waiver provision violates the Plain Language Act, the Court turns to the plain language of the act itself. Section 56:12-10 provides:

To insure that a consumer contract shall be simple, clear, understandable and easily readable, the following are examples of guidelines that a court . . . may consider in determining whether a consumer contract as a whole complies with this act:

(1) Cross references that are confusing;

(2) Sentences that are of greater length than necessary;

(3) Sentences that contain double negatives and exceptions to exceptions;

(4) Sentences and sections that are in a confusing or illogical order;

(5) The use of words with obsolete meanings or words that differ in their legal meaning from their common ordinary meaning;

(6) Frequent use of Old English and Middle English words and Latin and French phrases.

N.J. Stat. Ann. § 56:12-10. Section 56:12-10 further provides:

The following are examples of guidelines that a court . . . may consider in determining whether the consumer contract as a whole complies with this act:

(1) Sections shall be logically divided and captioned;

(2) A table of contents or alphabetical index shall be used for all contracts with more than 3, 000 words;

(3) Conditions and exceptions to the main promise of the agreement shall be given equal prominence with the main promise, and shall be in at least 10 point type.

Id. A Court has discretion as to how much consideration should be given to the above-listed statutory guidelines in finding a violation of the act. See Boddy v. Cigna Prop. & Cas. Companies, 334 N.J.Super. 649, 655 (App. Div. 2000).

Reviewing Kang’s membership agreement in light of the above guidelines, the Court finds that the waiver provision does not violate the New Jersey Plain Language Act. The waiver provision does not contain any cross references, nor does it contain any double negatives or exceptions to exceptions. It does not contain words with obsolete meanings, nor is it clouded by the use of Old English, Middle English, Latin or French phrases. And Kang does not argue-nor does the Court find-that the sentences of the waiver provision are set forth in a confusing or illogical order.

Instead, Kang argues that the waiver provision violates the Plain Language Act because “[t]he size of the font (print) is about size 8, whereas the standard size used in everyday documents is size 12[, ]” and because “[t]he margins on the sides of the pages are about 0.5 inch . . . reflecting the intentions of the drafter to squeeze in additional words.” Kang Opp. Br., at p. 8. However, applying the above guidelines, the Court does not find that the waiver provision in this case is any less prominent that the remainder of the agreement. See N.J. Stat. Ann. § 56:12-10b(3). To the contrary, the waiver and liability provision is the only clause in the membership agreement preceded by a title in all caps (“IMPORTANT: RELEASE AND WAIVER OF LIABILITY AND INDEMNITY”), and it is the only clause that is fully enclosed by a border, creating a visual separation between the waiver and the rest of the agreement.

The Court finds that the waiver provision in this case does not offend public policy under Stelluti and does not otherwise violate the New Jersey Plain Language Act.

2. Is LA Fitness Under a Legal Duty To Perform?

LA Fitness argues that its relationship with Kang does not create any duties prescribed by statute or regulation. See LA Fitness Moving Br., at pp. 6-8. New Jersey courts have found liability waivers to be invalid as against public policy where they conflict with legislatively imposed duties. For example, in Hy-Grade Oil Co. v. New Jersey Bank, 138 N.J.Super. 112, 118 (App. Div. 1975), the court found it against public policy for a bank to exculpate itself from liability or responsibility for negligence in the performance of its function as a night depository service, in part due to the “extensive statutory regulations covering every phase of the banking business[.]” Id. at 118. Similarly, in McCarthy v. Nat’l Ass’n for Stock Car Auto Racing, Inc., 48 N.J. 539, 543 (1967), the New Jersey Supreme Court held a liability waiver invalid as against public policy because it purported to contract away safety requirements prescribed by statute dealing with motor vehicle racing. See id. at 543 (“[t]he prescribed safety requirements may not be contracted away, for if they could be the salient protective purposes of the legislation would largely be nullified”).

Kang argues that “although there are no statutes specific to fitness centers, there are several national associations that have established standards that apply to the fitness industry[.]” Kang Opp. Br., at pp. 8-9. However, there is no indication that these national standards apply with the force of law in New Jersey so as to constitute public policy of the state. Kang further argues that the Stelluti court acknowledged the well-established duties of care that New Jersey business owners owe to patrons that enter their premises. See Kang Opp. Br., at p. 8. However, as noted above in Part B.1. supra, Stelluti expressly held that fitness center liability waivers such as the one at issue here do not violate public policy at least to the extent that they exculpate for ordinary negligence. Stelluti, 408 N.J.Super. at 459. The Court finds that LA Fitness is not under any legal duty that precludes its reliance on the liability waiver in this case.

3. Does the Contract Grow Out of Unequal Bargaining Power or is it Otherwise Unconscionable?

With respect to the final Stelluti factor, Kang argues that the waiver: (1) was not the product of mutual assent; and (2) is unconscionable as a term in a contract of adhesion. See Kang Opp. Br., at pp. 10-14. The Court addresses both arguments in turn.

a. Mutual Assent

Kang argues that the waiver was invalid for lack of mutual assent, based upon the following assertions: (1) Neither Kang nor her husband speaks English; (2) LA Fitness knew as much, as the Kangs’ daughter was present to translate; (3) an LA Fitness employee explained the contract duration and payment terms to the Kangs’ daughter, but did not explain the liability waiver to her; (4) only Kang’s husband was asked to initial next to the waiver provision in his membership agreement, but no one explained to him what he was initialing; and (5) no employee went over the waiver provision with Kang or her daughter. See Kang Opp. Br., at pp. 10-11. Accordingly, Kang argues that she did not “clearly, unequivocally, and decisively surrender[ ] her rights” as is required for a valid waiver. Id. at p. 11.

The Court finds these arguments unavailing. As an initial matter, Kang’s inability to speak English does not bar her from becoming contractually bound. Notwithstanding the fact that her daughter was present to translate, New Jersey courts have unequivocally held that in the absence of fraud, one who signs an agreement is conclusively presumed to understand and assent to its terms and legal effect:

In the absence of fraud or imposition, when one fails to read a contract before signing it, the provisions are nevertheless binding, and the party is conclusively presumed to understand and assent to its terms and legal effect . . . . Even illiterate individuals have been held bound by a signed contract in the absence of misrepresentation. One who signs a document in those circumstances should know its contents or have it read (or otherwise have the contents made known) to him or her.

Statewide Realty Co. v. Fid. Mgmt. & Research Co., 259 N.J.Super. 59, 73 (Law. Div. 1992) (internal citations and quotations omitted); see also Herrera v. Twp. of S. Orange Vill., 270 N.J.Super. 417, 423, 637 (App. Div. 1993) (enforcing release agreement in the absence of fraud, notwithstanding testimony by plaintiff that she did not understand the release because she could not read English).

Under the New Jersey case law cited above, absent allegations of fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation which Kang does not make here, she is conclusively presumed to have understood and assented to the membership agreement’s terms-including the waiver-and legal effect. See Stelluti v. Casapenn Enterprises, LLC, 203 N.J. 286, 305 (2010) (“Although Stelluti argues that she did not know what she was signing, she does not claim that she signed the waiver form as the result of fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. Therefore, the trial court was well within reason to presume that she understood the terms of the agreement . . . and the finding to that effect is unassailable.”)

Nor does the fact that LA Fitness may not have explained the waiver to her or her daughter preclude enforcement. See Stelluti v. Casapenn Enterprises, LLC, 203 N.J. 286, 301- 02 (2010) (enforcing exculpatory clause while giving plaintiff benefit of inference that “Powerhouse may not have explained to Stelluti the legal effect of the contract that released Powerhouse from liability”).

Finally, the Court is not aware of, nor has Kang cited, any requirement that she must have initialed the waiver provision for that clause to be enforceable against her. While she did not initial the waiver provision, she did sign the membership agreement containing it. In the absence of fraud, that is enough to bind her to its terms. See Statewide, 259 N.J.Super. at 73.

b. Unconscionability

Kang also argues that even if the waiver is found to be enforceable, the Court should invalidate it as a contract of adhesion. “[T]he essential nature of a contract of adhesion is that it is presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, commonly in a standardized printed form, without the opportunity for the ‘adhering’ party to negotiate except perhaps on a few particulars.” Rudbart v. N. Jersey Dist. Water Supply Comm’n, 127 N.J. 344, 353, 605 A.2d 681, 685 (1992). Kang’s unconscionability argument is essentially an amalgamation of all of her arguments summarized above: that as someone who does not speak English she lacked the sophistication to understand the terms to which she was agreeing, LA Fitness knew that she was in no position to understand those terms, she did not initial next to the waiver provision, the waiver is one-sided and printed on a standard form agreement, and she was not in a position to negotiate the terms of the agreement. Kang Opp. Br., at pp. 12-14.

Notably, not all contracts of adhesion are unenforceable. In Stelluti, the New Jersey Supreme Court held:

Here, Powerhouse’s agreement was a standard pre-printed form presented to Stelluti and other prospective members on a typical ‘take-it-or-leave-it basis.’ No doubt, this agreement was one of adhesion. As for the relative bargaining positions of the parties, . . . we assume that Stelluti was a layperson without any specialized knowledge about contracts generally or exculpatory ones specifically. Giving her the benefit of all inferences from the record, including that Powerhouse may not have explained to Stelluti the legal effect of the contract that released Powerhouse from liability, we nevertheless do not regard her in a classic ‘position of unequal bargaining power’ such that the contract must be voided. As the Appellate Division decision noted, Stelluti could have taken her business to another fitness club, could have found another means of exercise aside from joining a private gym, or could have thought about it and even sought advice before signing up and using the facility’s equipment. No time limitation was imposed on her ability to review and consider whether to sign the agreement. In sum, although the terms of the agreement were presented ‘as is’ to Stelluti, rendering this a fairly typical adhesion contract in its procedural aspects, we hold that the agreement was not void based on any notion of procedural unconscionability.

Stelluti v. Casapenn Enterprises, LLC, 203 N.J. 286, 301-02 (2010).

Like the defendant in Stelluti, Kang was a layperson without any specialized knowledge of exculpatory contracts, and the Court gives her the benefit of the inference that LA Fitness did not explain the legal effect of the waiver provision to her. However, also like the defendant in Stelluti, Kang was not under any undue pressure to execute the agreement and she could have sought advice before signing. Indeed, her daughter was present to translate. As noted above, the fact that Kang does not speak English does have any legal effect on the contract’s enforceability. Thus, in accordance with Stelluti, the Court finds that although the LA Fitness membership agreement may have been offered on a “take-it-or-leave-it” basis, it is not void on the basis of unconscionability.

Because the exculpatory clause does not offend public policy, the Court finds it to be valid and enforceable. Accordingly, LA Fitness’s motion for summary judgment is granted.

III. Conclusion

For the foregoing reasons, defendants’ motion for summary judgment is granted, and the clerk of the court is direct to close this case. An accompanying Order will be filed.


Release for a health club which had a foam pit included language specific to the injury the plaintiff suffered, which the court used to deny the plaintiff’s claim.

Argument made that the word inherent limited the risks the release covered and as such did not cover the injury the plaintiff received.

Macias, v. Naperville Gymnastics Club, 2015 IL App (2d) 140402-U; 2015 Ill. App. Unpub. LEXIS 448

State: Illinois, Appellate Court of Illinois, Second District

Plaintiff: Kamil Macias

Defendant: Naperville Gymnastics Club

Plaintiff Claims: negligent in its failure to properly supervise the open gym, train participants, and warn participants of hazards and dangers accompanied with activities and use of equipment in the open gym

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2015

Summary

Plaintiff was injured jumping headfirst into a foam pit at the defendant’s gym. The plaintiff had signed a release relieving the defendant of liability, which was upheld by the trial court and the appellate court.

For the first time, the plaintiff argued the release was limited by the language in the release because it used the term inherent in describing the risks. Inherent limits the risks, to those that are part and parcel of the activity and the injury that befell the plaintiff was a freak accident.

Facts

The plaintiff went to the defendant club during open hours when the public could attend with a friend. He paid an admission fee and signed a release. The club had a foam pit. The plaintiff watched other people jump into the pit then tried it himself. He jumped off the springboard and instead of landing feet first he landed head first in the pit.

The plaintiff broke his neck requiring extensive surgery and rehabilitation.

The defendant club filed a motion to dismiss based upon the release signed by the plaintiff. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss because the release was ambiguous.

During discovery, the plaintiff admitted he did not see the rules of the gym but did understand the risks of landing in the pit head first.

Walk around all pits and trampolines,” and he stated that he understood what this meant. The rules also stated: “Do not play on any equipment without proper supervision,” and “Do not do any gymnastics without proper supervision,” and plaintiff stated that he understood what these meant. Plaintiff also stated that he did not see a sign painted on the wall in the gym titled, “Loose foam pit rules.” That sign stated: “Look before you leap,” “No diving or belly flops,” and “Land on feet, bottom or back only.” Plaintiff acknowledged that he understood what these meant

After discovery, the defendant club filed a motion for summary judgment based on the additional information collected during discovery. The trial court granted that motion, and this appeal was dismissed.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The appellate court looked at contract law in Illinois.

The primary objective in construing a contract is to give effect to the parties’ intent, and to discover this intent the various contract provisions must be viewed as a whole. Words derive meaning from their context, and contracts must be viewed as a whole by examining each part in light of the other parts. Id. Contract language must not be rejected as meaningless or surplusage; it is presumed that the terms and provisions of a contract are purposely inserted and that the language was not employed idly.

A release is a contract. For the release to be valid and enforceable, it should:

…contain clear, explicit, and unequivocal language referencing the types of activities, circumstances, or situations that it encompasses and for which the plaintiff agrees to relieve the defendant from a duty of care. In this way, the plaintiff will be put on notice of the range of dangers for which he assumes the risk of injury, enabling him to minimize the risks by exercising a greater degree of caution.

The court found the injury suffered by the plaintiff fell within the scope of the possible injuries of the release and contemplated by the plaintiff upon signing the release.

Two clauses in the release stated the plaintiff was in good physical health and had proper physical condition to participate. The plaintiff argued these clauses made the release ambiguous; however, the appellate court did not find that to be true.

Here is the interesting argument in the case.

I have repeatedly stated that releases that limit releases to the inherent risk are limited in their scope. The plaintiff made that argument here.

Plaintiff argues that the use of “inherent risk” language throughout the release creates an ambiguity as to whether the language covers only dangers inherent in gymnastics and not freak accidents. We also reject this argument. As previously stated, the release specifically lists landing on landing surfaces as an inherent risk. Thus, there is no ambiguity as to whether plaintiff’s injury was covered by the release.

The plaintiff also argued his injury was not foreseeable because:

… (1) he lacked specialized knowledge of gymnastics and, in particular, foam pits, to appreciate the danger and foresee the possibility of injury, and (2) his injury was not the type that would ordinarily accompany jumping into a foam pit.

The argument on whether the injury was foreseeable is not whether the plaintiff knew of the risk but:

The relevant inquiry is not whether [the] plaintiff foresaw [the] defendants’ exact act of negligence,” but “whether [the] plaintiff knew or should have known” the accident “was a risk encompassed by his [or her] release.

The court found the injury the plaintiff received was on that was contemplated by the release.

Thus, the issue here is whether plaintiff knew or should have known that the accident was a risk encompassed by the release which he signed. As previously determined, the language of the release in this case was specific enough to put plaintiff on notice. In discussing inherent risks in the sport of gymnastics and use of the accompanying equipment, the release lists injuries resulting from landing on the landing surfaces, which includes injuries to bones, joints, tendons, or death.

The plaintiff also argued the release violated public policy because the release was presented to “opened its gym to the unskilled and inexperienced public” when it opened its gym to the public.

The court struck down this argument because the freedom to contract was greater than the limitation on damages issues.

The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s granting of the summary judgment for the defendant based on the release.

So Now What?

The inherent risk argument here was made but either not effectively argued by the plaintiff or ignored by the court. However, for the first time, the argument that the word inherent is a limiting word, not a word that expands the release was made in an argument.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2018 Recreation Law (720) 334 8529

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FB, Twitter or LinkedIn

If you are interested in having me write your release, fill out this Information Form and Contract and send it to me.

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

To Purchase Go Here:

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

By Recreation Law    Rec-law@recreation-law.com    James H. Moss

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #SkiLaw,


Rarely do you see recreation or release cases from the District of Columbia; in this case, the appellate court upheld the release for an injury in a gym

Plaintiff’s arguments about the release and attempt to invalidate the release by claiming gross negligence all failed.

Moore v. Waller, et al., 930 A.2d 176; 2007 D.C. App. LEXIS 476

State: District of Columbia, District of Columbia Court of Appeals

Plaintiff: Richard J. Moore

Defendant: Terrell Waller and Square 345 Limited Partnership T/A Grand Hyatt Hotel

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: for the defendant health club

Year: 2007

The plaintiff was a member of the exercise facility and had signed a release when he joined. One day while at the facility to exercise, he was asked by a kick boxing instructor to hold an Everlast body bag so the instructor could demonstrate kicks to the class. The plaintiff reluctantly did so.

The kick boxing instructor showed the plaintiff how to hold the bag. The instructor then kicked the bag five times in rapid succession. The plaintiff was out of breath after the demonstration and stated with irony that it was not hard to do.

A month after the class the plaintiff determined he had been injured from holding the bag and sued.

The defendants motioned for summary judgment with the trial court which was granted, and the plaintiff appealed.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The court stated that it did not often look at releases in this context. The court looked at Maryland and other states for their laws concerning releases as well as the release law in DC, which was mostly in other types of business contracts.

DC like most other states will not allow a release to stop claims for “intentional harms or for the more extreme forms of negligence, i.e., reckless, wanton, or gross [negligence].” The plaintiff did not argue the acts of the defendant were grossly negligent, but did argue the acts were reckless.

However, the court could find nothing in the pleadings that indicated the defendant’s actions were reckless. In fact, the pleadings found the instructors efforts to show the plaintiff how to hold the bag was for safety purposes and as such; safety is inconsistent with recklessness or gross negligence.

The appellate court also looked at the release itself and found it was clear and unambiguous.

…”exculpation must be spelled out with such clarity that the intent to negate the usual consequences of tortious conduct is made plain”; also recognizing that in most circumstances modern law “permit[s] a person to exculpate himself by contract from the legal consequences of his negligence”

The plaintiff also argued the release was written so broadly that it was written to cover reckless or gross negligence and as such should be thrown out. However, the court looked at the issue in a different way. Any clause in a release that attempts to limit the liability for gross negligence is not valid; however, that does not invalidate the entire release.

We disagree. “‘A better interpretation of the law is that any “term” in a contract which at-tempts to exempt a party from liability for gross negligence or wanton conduct is unenforceable, not the entire [contract].

This is the acceptable way under contract law to deal with clauses or sections that are invalid. However, many contracts have clauses that say if any clause is invalid only that clause can be thrown out; the entire contract is still valid.

DC recognizes that some releases can be void if they reach too far.

We, of course, would not enforce such a release if doing so would be against public policy. “An exculpatory clause [in a will] that excuses self-dealing [by the personal representative] or attempts to limit liability for breaches of duty committed in bad faith, intentionally, or with reckless indifference to the interest of the beneficiary, is generally considered to be against public policy.”)

However, releases found within health club agreements do not violate public policy.

However, we agree with the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and with numerous other courts which have held that it does not violate public policy to enforce exculpatory clauses contained in membership contracts of health clubs and fitness centers.

The appellate court upheld the decision of the trial court.

So Now What?

This decision does not leap with new information or ideas about releases. What is reassuring are two points. The first is releases are valid in DC. The second is when in doubt the court looked to Maryland, which has held that a release signed by a parent can stop a minor’s right to sue. See States that allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue.

If you are interested in having me write your release, fill out this Information Form and Contract and send it to me.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FB, Twitter or LinkedIn

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

Copyright 2017 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: http://www.recreation-law.com

Mobile Site: http://m.recreation-law.com

By Recreation Law           Rec-law@recreation-law.com     James H. Moss

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, gross negligence, fitness, exculpatory clauses, reckless, personal injury, public policy, membership, kick, summary judgment, unenforceable, guests, demonstration, intentionally, recklessness, attendance, affiliates, boxing, wanton, body bag, property loss, intentional torts, health club, bargaining, signing, exempt, waive, bag, waiver provisions, causes of action, own negligence, Washington DC. District of Columbia, DC, fitness center, health club,

 


Moore v. Waller, et al., 930 A.2d 176; 2007 D.C. App. LEXIS 476

Moore v. Waller, et al., 930 A.2d 176; 2007 D.C. App. LEXIS 476

Richard J. Moore, Appellant, v. Terrell Waller and Square 345 Limited Partnership T/A Grand Hyatt Hotel, Appellees.

No. 05-CV-695

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS

930 A.2d 176; 2007 D.C. App. LEXIS 476

June 20, 2006, Argued

August 2, 2007, Decided

PRIOR HISTORY:  [**1]

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (CA-1522-04). (Hon. Michael L. Rankin, Trial Judge).

COUNSEL: John P. Fatherree for appellant.

Terrell Waller, Pro se.

Rocco P. Porreco for appellee, Square 345 Limited Partnership.

JUDGES: Before GLICKMAN, KRAMER, and FISHER, Associate Judges.

OPINION BY: FISHER

OPINION

[*177]  FISHER, Associate Judge: Appellant Richard Moore claims that he was injured on February 26, 2001, while participating in a demonstration of kick boxing at Club Fitness, which is operated by the appellee, Square 345 Limited Partnership (hereinafter Grand Hyatt). Relying on a waiver and release of liability Moore signed when he joined the fitness center, the Superior Court granted summary judgment, first for Grand Hyatt and then for Terrell Waller, the instructor who allegedly injured Moore. We affirm.

I.

Plaintiff Moore alleged that he had gone to the fitness center on February 26, 2001, to exercise. Although “he was not participating in the kick boxing classes, the instructor [*178]  , defendant Waller, asked [Moore] to hold . . . a detached Everlast body bag, so [Mr.] Waller could demonstrate a kick to his class.” According to Mr. Moore, he “reluctantly agreed, saying to [Mr. Waller], ‘Not hard.’ Defendant  [**2] Waller showed [Mr. Moore] how to hold the bag, braced against his body, and then kicked the bag five times, in rapid succession, with great force.” He claims that when Waller finished, “he was out of breath from the strenuous effort, and commented with obvious sarcasm and irony, ‘That wasn’t hard, was it.'” Moore states that he “immediately felt trauma to his body,” felt “stiff and achy” the next day, and consulted a physician about one month later. Mr. Moore asserts that “[h]e has been diagnosed as having torn ligaments and tendons from the trauma of the injury, and may have neurological damage, as well.” The resulting limitations on his physical activity allegedly have diminished the quality of his life in specified ways.

Mr. Moore had joined the fitness center on January 16, 2001, signing a membership agreement and initialing that portion of the agreement that purports to be a waiver and release of liability.

Article V – WAIVER AND LIABILITY

Section 1. The Member hereby acknowledges that attendance at or use of the Club or participation in any of the Club’s activities or programs by such Member, including without limitation, the use of the Club’s equipment and facilities, . . . exercises  [**3] (including the use of the weights, cardiovascular equipment, and apparatus designed for exercising), [and] selection of exercise programs, methods, and types of equipment, . . . could cause injury to the Member or damage to the Member’s personal property. As a material consideration for the Club to enter into this Agreement, to grant membership privileges hereunder and to permit the Member and the Member’s guests to use the Club and its facilities, the Member, on its own behalf and on behalf of the Member’s guests, agrees to assume any and all liabilities associated with the personal injury, death, property loss or other damages which may result from or arise out of attendance at or use of the Club or participation in any of the Club’s programs or activities, notwithstanding any consultation on any exercise programs which may be provided by employees of the Club.

By signing this Agreement, the Member understands that the foregoing waiver of liability on its behalf and on the behalf of the Member’s guests will apply to any and all claims against the Club and/or its owners, shareholders, officers, directors, employees, agents or affiliates . . . for any such claims, demands, personal  [**4] injuries, costs, property loss or other damages resulting from or arising out of any of foregoing risks at the Club, the condominium or the associated premises.

The Member hereby, on behalf of itself and the Member’s heirs, executors, administrators, guests and assigns, fully and forever releases and discharges the Club and the Club affiliates, and each of them, from any and all claims, damages, demands, rights of action or causes of action, present or future, known or unknown, anticipated or unanticipated resulting from or arising out of the attendance at or use of the Club or their participation in any of the Club’s activities or programs by such Member, including those which arise out of the negligence of the Club and/or the Club and the Club affiliates from any and all liability for any loss, or theft of, or damage to personal property, including, without limitation, automobiles and the contents of lockers.

 [*179]  THE MEMBER, BY INITIALING BELOW, ACKNOWLEDGES THAT HE/SHE HAS CAREFULLY READ THIS WAIVER AND RELEASE AND FULLY UNDERSTANDS THAT IT IS A WAIVER AND RELEASE OF LIABILITY, AND ASSUMES THE RESPONSIBILITY TO INFORM HIS/HER GUESTS OF THE PROVISIONS OF THIS AGREEMENT.

If effective,  [**5] this provision waives and releases not only claims against the Club but also claims against its “employees [and] agents.” 1

1 We assume for purposes of analysis that the Grand Hyatt is responsible for the conduct of Mr. Waller at issue here, but we need not determine whether he was an employee or an independent contractor.

Ruling on Grand Hyatt’s motion for summary judgment, the trial court concluded:

The Waiver and Liability section of the contract . . . expresses a full and complete release of all liability for personal injury occurring in the fitness center. Moore signed an acknowledgment indicating that [he] had read and understood that he was releasing Grand Hyatt from all liability for personal injuries that he might sustain. Furthermore, there is no allegation of fraud or overreaching in the amended complaint. In the circumstances, the court finds that the waiver and release is valid and enforceable and is a complete defense for Grand Hyatt in this action.

The court later held “that the terms of the waiver . . . apply equally to defendant Terrell Waller….”

II.

This court has not often addressed the validity of exculpatory clauses in contracts. We have enforced them, however. For  [**6] example, “[i]t is well settled in this jurisdiction that a provision in a bailment contract limiting the bailee’s liability will be upheld in the absence of gross negligence, willful act, or fraud.” Houston v. Security Storage Co., 474 A.2d 143, 144 (D.C. 1984). Accord, Julius Garfinckel & Co. v. Firemen’s Insurance Co., 288 A.2d 662, 665 (D.C. 1972) (“gross negligence or willful misconduct”); Manhattan Co. v. Goldberg, 38 A.2d 172, 174 (D.C. 1944) (“a bailee may limit his liability except for gross negligence”). We recently considered such a clause contained in a home inspection contract and concluded that it would be sufficient to waive or limit liability for negligence. Carleton v. Winter, 901 A.2d 174, 181-82 (D.C. 2006). However, after surveying “leading authorities” and cases from other jurisdictions, we recognized that “courts have not generally enforced exculpatory clauses to the extent that they limited a party’s liability for gross negligence, recklessness or intentional torts.” Id. at 181. See also Wolf v. Ford, 335 Md. 525, 644 A.2d 522, 525 (Md. 1994) ( [HN1] “a party will not be permitted to excuse its liability for intentional harms or for the more extreme forms of negligence, i.e., reckless,  [**7] wanton, or gross”); Seigneur v. National Fitness Institute, Inc., 132 Md. App. 271, 752 A.2d 631, 638 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2000) (exculpatory clause will not be enforced “when the party protected by the clause intentionally causes harm or engages in acts of reckless, wanton, or gross negligence”). In Carleton, the court remanded for further proceedings to determine whether the conduct of the defendants “was not just simple negligence, but rather gross negligence.” 901 A.2d at 182.

As Moore’s counsel conceded at oral argument, he does not claim that Waller intentionally or purposefully injured  [*180]  him. The complaint does allege reckless conduct, however, 2 and he argued to the trial court, as he does to us, that the fitness center could not exempt itself from liability for reckless or wanton behavior or gross negligence. Nevertheless, the defendants had moved for summary judgment, and  [HN2] “[m]ere conclusory allegations on the part of the non-moving party are insufficient to stave off the entry of summary judgment.” Musa v. Continental Insurance Co., 644 A.2d 999, 1002 (D.C. 1994); see also Super. Ct. Civ. R. 56 (e) (“the . . . response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this Rule, must set forth specific  [**8] facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial”). “‘[T]here is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.'” Brown v. George Washington Univ., 802 A.2d 382, 385 (D.C. 2002) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986)). “‘The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence . . . will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party].'” LaPrade v. Rosinsky, 882 A.2d 192, 196 (D.C. 2005) (quoting Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 252).

2 In his second amended complaint, Moore alleged that “defendant Waller recklessly disregarded [his] duty of due care [and] acted with deliberate indifference to the likelihood that his action would injure the plaintiff. Defendant Waller’s reckless action was the direct and proximate cause of plaintiff’s injuries.” He also alleged that the Grand Hyatt was responsible for Waller’s actions.

Nothing Moore presented in opposition to summary judgment would be sufficient to prove gross negligence or reckless conduct. Indeed, in one of his affidavits Mr. Moore stated that “as I was shown by defendant  [**9] Waller exactly how to hold the body bag while he demonstrated his kick(s), the purpose of his directions as communicated to me as to how to hold the bag were plainly for safety.” Such concern for safety is inconsistent with recklessness or gross negligence. See generally In re Romansky, 825 A.2d 311, 316 (D.C. 2003) (defining “recklessness”); District of Columbia v. Walker, 689 A.2d 40, 44 (D.C. 1997) (defining “gross negligence” for purposes of D.C. Code § 2-412 (2001) (formerly D.C.Code § 1-1212 (1981)). Moreover, Moore did not allege that defendant Waller kicked an unprotected portion of his body. Nor did he proffer expert testimony suggesting that the demonstration was so hazardous that it was reckless to undertake it, even with the protection of the Everlast body bag.

Because there is no viable claim for gross negligence, recklessness, or an intentional tort, we turn to the question of whether this particular contractual provision is sufficient to bar claims for negligence. 3 Although this is a suit for personal [*181]  injury, not merely for economic damage, the same principles of law apply. See Wright v. Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc., 394 F. Supp. 2d 27, 34 (D.D.C. 2005) (“by voluntarily  [**10] signing the Contestant Release Form, plaintiff waived his right to bring any claims for negligently caused personal injury”; applying District of Columbia law). This court has not previously considered the effect of an exculpatory clause in a membership agreement with a health club or fitness center, but many jurisdictions have done so. After surveying the legal landscape, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals concluded that most courts hold “that  [HN3] health clubs, in their membership agreements, may limit their liability for future negligence if they do so unambiguously.” Seigneur, 752 A.2d at 636. We have found the analysis in Seigneur to be very helpful.

3 Appellant’s brief explains that he “claims damages from Waller based upon negligent infliction of injury, and against Square 345 Limited Partnership based upon respondeat superior and upon apparent agency and authority, as well as negligent failure to properly select, train and supervise a person whose services were retained to provide lessons in an activity which would certainly be dangerous if not expertly and responsibly performed.” He later elaborates: “While kick boxing is an inherently dangerous activity, had the demonstration  [**11] been conducted in a responsible, non-negligent way, it would not have been dangerous.” The words “strict liability” appear under the caption of the second amended complaint, but appellant has not cited any statute or regulation that purports to impose strict liability on demonstrations of kick boxing, nor has he alleged the common law elements of strict liability in tort. See Word v. Potomac Electric Power Co., 742 A.2d 452, 459 (D.C. 1999). Neither has he proffered facts which would support such a theory. In sum, the waiver is sufficient to cover any theory of liability which is supported by more than conclusory allegations.

 [HN4] A fundamental requirement of any exculpatory provision is that it be clear and unambiguous. Maiatico v. Hot Shoppes, Inc., 109 U.S. App. D.C. 310, 312, 287 F.2d 349, 351 (1961) (“exculpation must be spelled out with such clarity that the intent to negate the usual consequences of tortious conduct is made plain”; also recognizing that in most circumstances modern law “permit[s] a person to exculpate himself by contract from the legal consequences of his negligence”). Cf. Adloo v. H.T. Brown Real Estate, Inc., 344 Md. 254, 686 A.2d 298, 305 (Md. 1996) (“Because it does not clearly,  [**12] unequivocally, specifically, and unmistakably express the parties’ intention to exculpate the respondent from liability resulting from its own negligence, the clause is insufficient for that purpose.”). The provision at issue here meets the requirement of clarity. Article V is entitled, in capital letters, “WAIVER AND LIABILITY.” The Article ends with a prominent “box” containing a sentence typed in capital letters. Appellant Moore initialed that box, verifying that he had “carefully read this waiver and release and fully understands that it is a waiver and release of liability . . . .” By accepting the terms of membership, Moore “agree[d] to assume any and all liabilities associated with the personal injury, death, property loss or other damages which may result from or arise out of attendance at or use of the Club or participation in any of the Club’s programs or activities . . . .” He understood that this waiver of liability would “apply to any and all claims against the Club and/or its owners, shareholders, officers, directors, employees, agents or affiliates . . . for any . . . personal injuries . . . resulting from or arising out of any of [the] foregoing risks at the Club .  [**13] . . .” He “release[d] and discharge[d] the Club . . . from any and all claims, damages, demands, rights of action or causes of action…, including those which arise out of the negligence of the Club . . . .” This release is conspicuous and unambiguous, and it is clearly recognizable as a release from liability. Moreover, the injuries alleged here were reasonably within the contemplation of the parties. “Because  [HN5] the parties expressed a clear intention to release liability and because that release clearly included liability for negligence, that intention should be enforced.” Anderson v. McOskar Enterprises, Inc., 712 N.W.2d 796, 801 (Minn. Ct. App. 2006) (health and fitness club). 4

4 Because this waiver expressly refers to “claims . . . which arise out of the negligence of the Club,” its effect is clear. We have held, however, that it is not always necessary to use the word “negligence” in order to relieve a party of liability for such conduct. See Princemont Construction Corp. v. Baltimore & Ohio R.R. Co. 131 A.2d 877, 878 (D.C. 1957) (“the terms of an indemnity agreement may be so broad and comprehensive that although it contains no express stipulation indemnifying against a party’s  [**14] own negligence, it accomplishes the same purpose”); see also Avant v. Community Hospital, 826 N.E.2d 7, 12 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005)( [HN6] “an exculpatory clause need not include the word ‘negligence’ so long as it conveys the concept specifically and explicitly through other language”).

 [*182]  Appellant protests that the waiver provisions are so broad that they could be construed to exempt the Club from liability for harm caused by intentional torts or by reckless or grossly negligent conduct. Because such provisions are unenforceable, he argues that the entire release is invalid. We disagree. “‘A better interpretation of the law is that  [HN7] any “term” in a contract which attempts to exempt a party from liability for gross negligence or wanton conduct is unenforceable, not the entire [contract].'” Anderson, 712 N.W.2d at 801 (quoting Wolfgang v. Mid-American Motorsports, Inc., 898 F. Supp. 783, 788 (D. Kan. 1995) (which in turn quotes RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF CONTRACTS § 195(1) (1981) (“A term exempting a party from tort liability for harm caused intentionally or recklessly is unenforceable on grounds of public policy.” (emphasis added))). See Ellis v. James V. Hurson Associates, Inc., 565 A.2d 615, 617 (D.C. 1989)  [**15] (“The Restatement sets forth the relevant principles. Where less than all of an agreement is unenforceable on public policy grounds, a court may nevertheless enforce the rest of the agreement ‘in favor of a party who did not engage in serious misconduct.'” (quoting RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF CONTRACTS § 184(1) (1981))).

Nor is Article V (the waiver and release) unenforceable due to unequal bargaining power, as Mr. Moore asserts. We do not suppose that the parties in fact had equal power, but Moore does not meet the criteria for invalidating a contract on the grounds he invokes. He does not invite our attention to any evidence that he objected to the waiver provision or attempted to bargain for different terms. Nor has he shown that the contract involved a necessary service.

 [HN8] Even though a contract is on a printed form and offered on a “take it or leave it” basis, those facts alone do not cause it to be an adhesion contract. There must be a showing that the parties were greatly disparate in bargaining power, that there was no opportunity for negotiation and that the services could not be obtained elsewhere.

Schlobohm v. Spa Petite, Inc., 326 N.W.2d 920, 924-25 (Minn. 1982) (emphasis in  [**16] original). “Health clubs do not provide essential services[,]” Shields v. Sta-Fit, Inc., 79 Wn. App. 584, 903 P.2d 525, 528 (Wash. Ct. App. 1995), and “[t]he Washington metropolitan area . . . is home to many exercise and fitness clubs.” Seigneur, 752 A.2d at 639 (rejecting argument that patron’s bargaining position was grossly disproportionate to that of the fitness club).

We, of course, would not enforce such a release if doing so would be against public policy. See Godette v. Estate of Cox, 592 A.2d 1028, 1034 (D.C. 1991) ( [HN9] “An exculpatory clause [in a will] that excuses self-dealing [by the personal representative] or attempts to limit liability for breaches of duty committed in bad faith, intentionally, or with reckless indifference to the interest of the beneficiary, is generally considered to be against public policy.”); George Washington Univ. v. Weintraub, 458 A.2d 43, 47 (D.C. 1983) (exculpatory clause in lease was ineffective to waive tenants’ rights under implied warranty of habitability); see also Wolf v. Ford, 335 Md. 525, 644 A.2d 522, 526 (Md. 1994) (public policy will not permit exculpatory agreements in certain transactions affecting the performance of a public service obligation or “so important [*183]   [**17] to the public good that an exculpatory clause would be patently offensive”). However, we agree with the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and with numerous other courts which have held that it does not violate public policy to enforce exculpatory clauses contained in membership contracts of health clubs and fitness centers. Seigneur, 752 A.2d at 640-41 (and cases cited therein); see also, e.g., Schlobohm, 326 N.W.2d at 926 (“the exculpatory clause in the contract before us was not against the public interest”); Ciofalo v. Vic Tanney Gyms, Inc., 10 N.Y.2d 294, 177 N.E.2d 925, 927, 220 N.Y.S.2d 962 (N.Y. 1961) (“there is no special legal relationship and no overriding public interest which demand that this contract provision, voluntarily entered into by competent parties, should be rendered ineffectual”); Massengill v. S.M.A.R.T. Sports Medicine Clinic, P.C., 996 P.2d 1132 (Wyo. 2000). 5

5 The Supreme Court of Wisconsin refused to enforce one such clause on grounds of public policy. Atkins v. Swimwest Family Fitness Center, 2005 WI 4, 277 Wis. 2d 303, 691 N.W.2d 334 (Wis. 2005). That decision was based on several factors, however, and we do not understand the court to have announced a categorical rule. See id. at 340-42 (waiver was “overly broad  [**18] and all-inclusive,” the word “negligence” was not included, the provision was not “sufficiently highlight[ed],” and there was “no opportunity to bargain”).

The trial court properly held that “the waiver and release is valid and enforceable and is a complete defense for Grand Hyatt [and Mr. Waller] in this action.” The judgment of the Superior Court is hereby

Affirmed.

 


Allowing a climber to climb with harness on backwards on health club climbing wall enough for court to accept gross negligence claim and invalidate the release.

Whether or not the employee was present the entire time, is irrelevant, anytime any employee had the opportunity to see the harness on incorrectly was enough to be gross negligence.

Alvarez v LTF Club Operations Company Inc., 2016 Mich. App. LEXIS 2198

State: Michigan, Court of Appeals of Michigan

Plaintiff: David Alvarez and Elena Alvarez

Defendant: LTF Club Operations Company Inc., doing business as Lifetime Fitness Center, and Defendant-Appellee, Jane Doe

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: release

Holding: For the Plaintiff

Year: 2016

Facts

The facts are difficult to determine because the interpretation of the court in its opinion does not follow the normal language used in the climbing industry.

The plaintiff was injured when he leaned back to descend after climbing a climbing wall. Because he was not hooked in properly, something broke, and he fell. The plaintiff claims an employee of the defendant watched him put the harness on and hook into the belay system. The employee alleges she was not present for that. The plaintiff allegedly put the harness on backwards.

The harness allegedly had a red loop that should have been in front. No one either knew how the harness was to be worn or that the harness was on incorrectly.

Karina Montes Agredano, a Lifetime employee, provided David with a harness, he climbed to the top of the rock wall, and attempted to lower himself back down via the automatic belay system. However, because David’s harness was on backwards and incorrectly hooked to the belay system, it broke and he fell to the ground suffering multiple injuries.

The plaintiff argued the employee was grossly negligent. The trial court granted the defendants motion to dismiss based on the release, and this appeal ensued.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The court first started by defining gross negligence under Michigan’s law. Michigan law is similar if not identical to many other states. Gross negligence requires proof the defendant engaged in reckless conduct or acted in a way that demonstrated a substantial lack of concern for the plaintiff.

To establish a claim for gross negligence, it is incumbent on a plaintiff to demonstrate that the defendant acted or engaged in “conduct so reckless as to demonstrate a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury results.” “Evidence of ordinary negligence is insufficient to create a material question of fact regarding the existence of gross negligence.” “The issue of gross negligence may be determined by summary disposition only where reasonable minds could not differ.” “Simply alleging that an actor could have done more is insufficient under Michigan law, because, with the benefit of hindsight, a claim can always be made that extra precautions could have influenced the result.” However, gross negligence will often be exhibited by a “willful disregard of precautions or measures to attend to safety[.]”

Although the issue debated in the appeal was the location of the employee when the plaintiff was putting on the harness and climbing. It was undisputed the defendant’s employee was instructing the plaintiff while he was climbing. Eventually, the court found this not to be a real issue since any opportunity to see the harness was on incorrectly would have allowed the defendants employee to resolve the issue.

Thus, plaintiffs’ testimony allows the inference that Agredano did not simply have the ability to do more to assure David’s safe climb. Instead, accepting plaintiffs’ testimony as true, evidence exists that Agredano ignored the red loop in David’s harness–a clear visible indication that David was climbing the rock wall in an unsafe manner–and took no steps to avoid the known danger associated with climbing the rock wall with an improperly secured harness.

Failure then, to spot the problem or resolve the problem was proof of gross negligence, or a failure to care about the safety and welfare of the plaintiff.

Thus, Agredano’s alleged failure to affirmatively instruct David on the proper way to wear the harness before he donned it himself, coupled with her alleged disregard for the red loop warning sign that David had his harness on backwards, and instructing him to push off the wall, could demonstrate to a reasonable juror that she “simply did not care about the safety or welfare of” Accordingly, reasonable minds could differ regarding whether Agredano’s conduct constituted gross negligence.

Because the court could determine the acts of the defendant employee were possibly gross negligence, it was enough to determine what occurred and if gross negligence occurred.

So Now What?

This is pretty plane on its face. You allow a person to use a piece of equipment incorrectly who is then injured there is going to be a lawsuit. You allow a person to use a piece of safety equipment, equipment needed for the safe operation of your business incorrectly you are going to lose no matter how well written your release.

If you are interested in having me write your release, fill out this Information Form and Contract and send it to me.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FB, Twitter or LinkedIn

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

To Purchase Go Here:

Copyright 2017 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

Mobile Site: http://m.recreation-law.com

By Recreation Law           Rec-law@recreation-law.com     James H. Moss

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, Climbing Wall, Lifetime Fitness, Climbing Harness, Health Club,

 


Colorado Appellate Court rules that fine print and confusing language found on most health clubs (and some climbing wall) releases is void because of the Colorado Premises Liability Act.

Door swings both ways in the law. Ski areas used the Colorado Premises Liability Act to lower the standard of care and effectively eliminate claims for lift accidents in Colorado. Here the same act is used to rule a release is void for accidents occurring on premises. However, the release was badly written and should have been thrown out.

Stone v. Life Time Fitness, Inc., 2016 Colo. App. LEXIS 1829

State: Colorado, Colorado Court of Appeals

Plaintiff: Wendy Jane Stone

Defendant: Life Time Fitness, Inc., a Minnesota corporation doing business in the State of Colorado, d/b/a Life Time Fitness; Life Time Fitness Foundation; and LTF Club Operations Company, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence and violation of the Colorado Premises Liability Act

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the Plaintiff

Year: 2016

This case is going to change a lot of releases in Colorado, and possibly nationwide. Similar decisions concerning health club releases have occurred in other states for the same or similar reasons. Basically, your have to write a release correctly, or it is void.

Remember the articles about Vail using the Colorado Premises Liability Act to defeat claims for lift accidents? (See Colorado Premises Liability act eliminated common law claims of negligence as well as CO Ski Area Safety Act claims against a landowner and Question answered; Colorado Premises Liability Act supersedes Colorado Ski Area Safety act. Standard of care owed skiers on chairlift’s reasonable man standard?) The same act has been used to void a release in a health club case.

The Colorado Premises Liability Act is a law that tells a landowner (which is broadly defined to include renters as well as landowners indoors and out) how they must treat three types of people on their land or as in this case, a person who is in a health club.

Here the plaintiff had washed her hands in the locker room, and as she was leaving she tripped over the blow dryer cord fracturing her right ankle.

Stone was a member of a Life Time fitness club located in Centennial. According to the complaint, she sustained injuries in the women’s locker room after finishing a workout. Stone alleged that she had washed her hands at a locker room sink and then “turned to leave when she tripped on the blow dryer cord that was, unbeknownst to her, hanging to the floor beneath the sink and vanity counter top.” She caught her foot in the cord and fell to the ground, fracturing her right ankle.

The plaintiff’s injuries arose from her being the land, not for using the benefits of the health club.

The plaintiff sued for negligence and for violation of the Colorado Premises Liability Act. The Colorado Premises Liability Act sets for the duties owed by a landowner to someone on their land based on the relationship between the landowner and the person on the land. Pursuant to an earlier Colorado Supreme Court decision, the Colorado Premises Liability Act provides the sole remedies available to persons injured on the property of another.

The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims based upon the release used by the health club, and the plaintiff appealed.

This decision is new and there is a possibility that it could be appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court and reversed.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The plaintiff filed here a complaint with two claims, negligence and breach of the Colorado Premises Liability Act. The court first looked at the negligence claim. The court found that negligence claim was properly dismissed, but for a different reason that the release stopped the claim. Here, the Colorado Premises Liability Act provides the only legal recourse against a landowner, so the negligence claim has no validity.

The PLA thus provides the sole remedy against landowners for injuries on their property established that the PLA abrogates common law negligence claims against landowners.

Accordingly, albeit for reasons different from those expressed by the trial court, we conclude that Stone could not bring a claim for common law negligence, and the trial court; therefore, correctly ruled against her on that claim.

When a statute as in this case the Colorado Premises Liability Act, states the only way to sue is under this act, the statute bars all other ways or theories to sue.

The plaintiff’s argument then was the release that was written and signed by the plaintiff only covered the activities in the health club and did not provide protection from a suit for simply being on the premises.

As we understand Stone’s contentions, she does not dispute that the exculpatory language in the Agreement would preclude her from asserting claims under the PLA for any injuries she might sustain when working out on a treadmill, stationary bicycle, or other exercise equipment or playing racquetball. We therefore do not address such claims. Instead, Stone argues that the exculpatory clauses do not clearly and unambiguously apply to her injuries incurred after washing her hands in the women’s locker room.

The court then reviewed the general rules surrounding release in Colorado law.

Generally, exculpatory agreements have long been disfavored.” Determining the sufficiency and validity of an exculpatory agreement is a question of law for the court. This analysis requires close scrutiny of the agreement to ensure that the intent of the parties is expressed in clear, unambiguous, and unequivocal language.

Under Colorado law, clear and unambiguously language is reviewed based on the lengthy, the amount of legal jargon and the possibility of confusion.

To determine whether the intent of the parties is clearly and unambiguously expressed, we have previously examined the actual language of the agreement for legal jargon, length and complication, and any likelihood of confusion or failure of a party to recognize the full extent of the release provisions.

Colorado has a four-part test to determine the validity of a release.

Under Jones, a court must consider four factors in determining whether an exculpatory agreement is valid: (1) the existence of a duty to the public; (2) the nature of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties was expressed in clear and unambiguous language.

The court quickly ruled that the first three factors were not at issue in this case.

In Colorado, there is no public duty based on recreational services. Recreational services are neither essential nor a matter of practical necessity. The third factor was also met because the defendant did not have any advantage. The plaintiff was free to obtain the services of the defendant someplace else.

The fourth factor provided the issue the case would resolve around, “Whether the intention of the parties was clear and unambiguous.”

The issue is not whether a detailed textual analysis would lead a court to determine that the language, even if ambiguous, ultimately would bar the plaintiff’s claims. Instead, the language must be clear and unambiguous and also “unequivocal” to be enforceable.

The court found eight ways the release in this case failed.

First, the release was very small type, dense fine print.

First, as explained by the New York Court of Appeals, “a provision that would exempt its drafter from any liability occasioned by his fault should not compel resort to a magnifying glass and lexicon.” Here, the Agreement consists of extremely dense fine print, for which a great many people would require a magnifying glass or magnifying reading glasses.

Second, the release was full of confusing legal jargon, including the following terms:

…affiliates, subsidiaries, successors, or assigns”; “assumption of risk”; “inherent risk of injury”; “includes, but is not limited to”; and “I agree to defend, indemnify and hold Life Time Fitness harmless.

This jargon was found to mitigate against the idea the release was clear and simple to understand.

Third, the release, referenced clauses, identified as chapters, which even the attorneys for the defendant found confusing. Nor could anyone explain what the references to chapters referred to.

Fourth the focus of the release was on the use of the exercise equipment. The court pointed out five instances in the release that related to the use of the equipment and none relating to occupation of the premises. Meaning the court found a release must release the claims the plaintiff is complaining of.

The fifth reason was the use of the term “inherent.” (As I’ve stated before and given presentations on, inherent is a limiting term you do not want to use in a release.) The court said the use of this term was only applied under Colorado law to apply to activities that are dangerous or potentially dangerous. A locker room is not inherently dangerous so the term is confusing in this case.

In light of this statutory and case law backdrop, the use of the inherent risk language in the assumption of risk clause, and the Agreement’s focus on the use of exercise equipment and facilities and physical injuries resulting from strenuous exercise, one could reasonably conclude that by signing the Agreement he or she was waiving claims based only on the inherent risks of injury related to fitness activities, as opposed to washing one’s hands.

The sixth issue the court had was the language between the different release terms was “squirrely.” (In 35 years of practicing law, I have used the term a lot, but never in a courtroom, and I’ve never seen it in a decision.) The way the language referred back to other clauses in the release and attempting to identify what injuries were actually covered created ambiguities and confusion. The defense counsel for the health club admitted the language was squirrely.

The seventh issue was the general language of the release used to broaden the release, (after using the narrowing term inherent). The release was full of “but for” or “but is not” type of phrases. It was an attempt to broaden the language in the release, which only made the release more confusing.

Seventh, the exculpatory clauses repeatedly use the phrases “includes, but is not limited to” and “including and without limitation,” as well as simply “including.” The repeated use of these phrases makes the clauses more confusing, and the reader is left to guess whether the phrases have different meanings. The problem is compounded by conflicting views expressed by divisions of this court on whether the similar phrase “including, but not limited to” is expansive or restrictive.

The use of these terms created more ambiguity in the release. Specifically, the language created an expansive versus restrictive flow in the release, none of which referenced the locker room.

Based on the above language the court found the release was not clear, unambiguous and unequivocal.

Based on the foregoing discussion, and after scrutinizing the exculpatory clauses, we conclude that the Agreement uses excessive legal jargon, is unnecessarily complex, and creates a likelihood of confusion or failure of a party to recognize the full extent of the release provisions. Accordingly, the Agreement does not clearly, unambiguously, and unequivocally bar Stone’s PLA claim based on the injuries she alleges she sustained after she washed her hands in the women’s locker room.

The negligence claim was dismissed, and the claim under the Colorado Premises Liability Act was allowed to proceed.

So Now What?

First remember, this case could still be appealed and changed by the Colorado Supreme Court. However, the logic and reasoning behind the Colorado Appellate Court decision is well laid out and clear. I don’t think these are issues the Colorado Supreme Court is going to take on.

Colorado has jumped onto the release bandwagon I’ve been telling people about for 25 years.  Your release has to be written in English, it needs to be understandable, and it needs to cover everything. Most importantly, it needs to be a separate document with no fine print, no legal jargon and easily read. You can no longer hide your release on the back of an agreement using fine print and expect it to protect you from claims.

Colorado has been a state where releases are rarely over-turned. However, this was a crappy piece of paper that had release language on it. The print was too small; the language was so confusing the attorney for the health club did not understand it and the court pointed this fact out.

Your release needs to be well written, needs to be written by an attorney, needs to be written by an attorney who understands what you do and the risks you are presenting to your guests/customers/participants.

If you are interested in having me prepare a release for you, download the information form and agreement here: information-and-agreement-to-write-a-release-for-you-1-1-17

For more articles on this type of releases found in health clubs see:

Sign-in sheet language at Michigan’s health club was not sufficient to create a release.            http://rec-law.us/28J1Cs8

For articles explaining why using the term inherent in a release is bad see:

Here is another reason to write releases carefully. Release used the term inherent to describe the risks which the court concluded made the risk inherently dangerous and voids the release.   http://rec-law.us/1SqHWJW

 

What do you think? Leave a comment.

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FB, Twitter or LinkedIn

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Lawclip_image0024_thumb.jpg

To Purchase Go Here:

Copyright 2017 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

Mobile Site: http://m.recreation-law.com

By Recreation Law           Rec-law@recreation-law.com     James H. Moss

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, Release, PLA, Premises Liability Act, Colorado Premises Liability Act, Health Club, Gym, Locker Room, Invitee, Fine Print, Legal Jargon,

 


Stone v. Life Time Fitness, Inc., 2016 Colo. App. LEXIS 1829

* Formatting in this case maybe different when finalized by the Court.

Stone v. Life Time Fitness, Inc., 2016 Colo. App. LEXIS 1829

Wendy Jane Stone, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Life Time Fitness, Inc., a Minnesota corporation doing business in the State of Colorado, d/b/a Life Time Fitness; Life Time Fitness Foundation; and LTF Club Operations Company, Inc., Defendants-Appellees.

Court of Appeals No. 15CA0598

COURT OF APPEALS OF COLORADO, DIVISION I

2016 Colo. App. LEXIS 1829

December 29, 2016, Decided

OPINION

[*1] City and County of Denver District Court No. 14CV33637 Honorable R. Michael Mullins, Judge

Opinion by JUDGE MILLER

Taubman and Fox, JJ., concur

Announced December 29, 2016

Charles Welton P.C., Charles Welton, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellant

Markusson Green & Jarvis, John T. Mauro, H. Keith Jarvis, Denver, Colorado, for Defendants-Appellees

¶ 1 In this action seeking recovery for personal injuries sustained at a fitness club, plaintiff, Wendy Jane Stone, appeals the summary judgment entered in favor of defendants, Life Time Fitness, Inc.; Life Time Fitness Foundation; and LTF Club Operations Company, Inc. (collectively, Life Time), on Stone’s negligence and Premises Liability Act (PLA) claims based on injuries sustained when she tripped on a hair dryer cord after washing her hands. The principal issue presented on appeal is whether the district court correctly ruled that Stone’s claims are contractually barred based on assumption of risk and liability release language contained in a member usage agreement (Agreement) she signed when she became a member of Life Time.

¶ 2 We disagree with the district court’s conclusion that the exculpatory provisions of the Agreement are valid as applied [*2] to Stone’s PLA claim. Consequently, we reverse the judgment as to that claim and remand the case for further proceedings. We affirm the district court’s judgment on the negligence claim.

I. Background

¶ 3 Stone was a member of a Life Time fitness club located in Centennial. According to the complaint, she sustained injuries in the women’s locker room after finishing a workout. Stone alleged that she had washed her hands at a locker room sink and then “turned to leave when she tripped on the blow dryer cord that was, unbeknownst to her, hanging to the floor beneath the sink and vanity counter top.” She caught her foot in the cord and fell to the ground, fracturing her right ankle.

¶ 4 Stone alleged that allowing the blow dryer cord to hang below the sink counter constituted a trip hazard and a dangerous condition and that, by allowing the condition to exist, Life Time failed to exercise reasonable care. She asserted a general negligence claim and also a claim under Colorado’s PLA, section 13-21-115, C.R.S. 2016.

¶ 5 Life Time moved for summary judgment, relying on assumption of risk and liability release language contained in the Agreement Stone signed when she joined Life Time. Life Time argued that the Agreement was [*3] valid and enforceable, that it expressly covered the type and circumstances of her injuries, and that it barred Stone’s claims as a matter of law. A copy of the Agreement appears in the Appendix to this opinion.

¶ 6 After full briefing, the district court granted Life Time’s motion, concluding that the Agreement was “valid and enforceable” and that Stone had released Life Time from all the claims asserted in the complaint.

II. Discussion

¶ 7 She contends that the district court, therefore, erred in entering summary judgment and dismissing her action.

A. Summary Judgment Standards

¶ 8 Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings and supporting documents establish that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Gagne v. Gagne, 2014 COA 127, ¶ 24; see C.R.C.P. 56(c). We review de novo an order granting a motion for summary judgment. Gagne, ¶ 24; see Ranch O, LLC v. Colo. Cattlemen’s Agric. Land Tr., 2015 COA 20, ¶ 12.

B. Negligence Claim

¶ 9 In her complaint, Stone alleged common law negligence and PLA claims, and she pursues both claims on appeal. The trial court’s summary judgment ruled in favor of Life Time without distinguishing between Stone’s negligence and PLA claims. It simply concluded that the [*4] exculpatory clauses in the Agreement were “valid and enforceable” and released Life Time from all claims asserted against it.

¶ 10 We turn to the negligence claim first because we may affirm a correct judgment for reasons different from those relied on by the trial court. English v. Griffith, 99 P.3d 90, 92 (Colo. App. 2004).

¶ 11 The parties agree that the PLA applies to this case. In section

13-21-115(2), the statute provides:

In any civil action brought against a landowner by a person who alleges injury occurring while on the real property of another and by reason of the condition of such property, or activities conducted or circumstances existing on such property, the landowner shall be liable only as provided in subsection (3) of this section.

The PLA thus provides the sole remedy against landowners for injuries on their property. Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322, 328-29 (Colo. 2004); Wycoff v. Grace Cmty. Church of Assemblies of God, 251 P.3d 1260, 1265 (Colo. App. 2010). Similarly, it is well

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Section 13-21-115(1), C.R.S. 2016, defines “landowner” as including “a person in possession of real property and a person legally responsible for the condition of real property or for the activities conducted or circumstances existing on real property.” In its answer, Life Time admitted that it owned and operated the club where Stone was injured and that the PLA governs her [*5] claims.

– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – –

established that the PLA abrogates common law negligence claims against landowners. Legro v. Robinson, 2012 COA 182, ¶ 20, aff’d, 2014 CO 40.

¶ 12 Accordingly, albeit for reasons different from those expressed by the trial court, we conclude that Stone could not bring a claim for common law negligence, and the trial court therefore correctly ruled against her on that claim. We now turn to the effect of the exculpatory clauses in the Agreement on Stone’s PLA claim.

C. Application of Exculpatory Clauses to PLA Claim

¶ 13 As we understand Stone’s contentions, she does not dispute that the exculpatory language in the Agreement would preclude her from asserting claims under the PLA for any injuries she might sustain when working out on a treadmill, stationary bicycle, or other exercise equipment or playing racquetball. We therefore do not address such claims. Instead, Stone argues that the exculpatory clauses do not clearly and unambiguously apply to her injuries incurred after washing her hands in the women’s locker room. We agree.

1. Law

¶ 14 “Generally, exculpatory agreements have long been disfavored.” B & B Livery, Inc. v. Riehl, 960 P.2d 134, 136 (Colo. 1998). Determining the sufficiency and validity of an exculpatory agreement is a question of law for the court. Id.; Jones [*6] v. Dressel, 623 P.2d 370, 375 (Colo. 1981). This analysis requires close scrutiny of the agreement to ensure that the intent of the parties is expressed in clear, unambiguous, and unequivocal language. Chadwick v. Colt Ross Outfitters, Inc., 100 P.3d 465, 467 (Colo. 2004). Our supreme court has explained:

To determine whether the intent of the parties is clearly and unambiguously expressed, we have previously examined the actual language of the agreement for legal jargon, length and complication, and any likelihood of confusion or failure of a party to recognize the full extent of the release provisions.

Id.

¶ 15 Under Jones, a court must consider four factors in determining whether an exculpatory agreement is valid: (1) the existence of a duty to the public; (2) the nature of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties was expressed in clear and unambiguous language. 623 P.2d at 375.

2. Analysis

a. The First Three Jones Factors

¶ 16 The first three Jones factors provide little help for Stone’s position. The supreme court has specified that no public duty is implicated if a business provides recreational services. See Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467 (addressing guided hunting services and noting that providers of recreational activities owe “no special duty [*7] to the public”); Jones, 623 P.2d at 376-78 (skydiving services); see also Hamill, 262 P.3d at 949 (addressing recreational camping services and noting supreme court authority).

¶ 17 With regard to the second factor, the nature of the services provided, courts have consistently deemed recreational services to be neither essential nor a matter of practical necessity. See Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467; Hamill, 262 P.3d at 949; see also Brooks v. Timberline Tours, Inc., 941 F. Supp. 959, 962 (D. Colo. 1996) (snowmobiling not a matter of practical necessity), aff’d, 127 F.3d 1273 (10th Cir. 1997); Lahey v. Covington, 964 F. Supp. 1440, 1445 (D. Colo. 1996) (whitewater rafting not an essential service), aff’d sub nom. Lahey v. Twin Lakes Expeditions, Inc., 113 F.3d 1246 (10th Cir. 1997). Stone attempts to distinguish those cases by asserting that people join fitness centers “to promote their health, not for the thrill of a dangerous recreational activity.” She cites no authority for such a distinction, and we are not persuaded that such activities as camping and horseback riding, at issue in the cases cited above, are engaged in for a dangerous thrill as opposed to the healthful benefits of outdoor exercise. Consequently, the recreational nature of the services Life Time provides does not weigh against upholding or enforcing the Agreement.

¶ 18 With respect to the third factor, a contract is fairly entered into if one party [*8] is not at such an obvious disadvantage in bargaining power that the effect of the contract is to place that party at the mercy of the other party’s negligence. See Hamill, 262 P.3d at 949; see also Heil Valley Ranch, Inc. v. Simkin, 784 P.2d 781, 784 (Colo. 1989). Possible examples of unfair disparity in bargaining power include agreements between employers and employees and between common carriers or public utilities and members of the public. See Heil Valley Ranch, Inc., 784 P.2d at 784. However, this type of unfair disparity is generally not implicated when a person contracts with a business providing recreational services. See id.; see also Hamill, 262 P.3d at 949-50.

¶ 19 In evaluating fairness, courts also examine whether the services provided could have been obtained elsewhere. Hamill, 262 P.3d at 950. Nothing in the record indicates that Stone could not have taken her business elsewhere and joined a different fitness club or recreation center. Nor is there any other evidence that the parties’ relative bargaining strengths were unfairly disparate so as to weigh against enforcing the Agreement.

¶ 20 We therefore turn to the fourth prong of the Jones test – whether the intention of the parties was expressed in clear and unambiguous language. [*9]

b. The Fourth Jones Factor

¶ 21 The validity of exculpatory clauses releasing or waiving future negligence claims usually turns on the fourth Jones factor – whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language. Wycoff, 251 P.3d at 1263 (applying the Jones factors to a PLA claim). This case also turns on that factor.

¶ 22 The issue is not whether a detailed textual analysis would lead a court to determine that the language, even if ambiguous, ultimately would bar the plaintiff’s claims. Instead, the language must be clear and unambiguous and also “unequivocal” to be enforceable. Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467; see also Threadgill v. Peabody Coal Co., 34 Colo. App. 203, 209, 526 P.2d 676, 679 (1974), cited with approval in Jones, 623 P.2d at 378.

¶ 23 We conclude that the Agreement fails this test for numerous reasons.

¶ 24 First, as explained by the New York Court of Appeals, “a provision that would exempt its drafter from any liability occasioned by his fault should not compel resort to a magnifying glass and lexicon.” Gross v. Sweet, 400 N.E.2d 306, 309 (N.Y. 1979), cited with approval in Jones, 623 P.2d at 378. Here, the Agreement consists of extremely dense fine print, for which a great many people would require a magnifying glass or magnifying reading glasses.

¶ 25 Second, the two clauses are replete with legal jargon, using phrases and terms such as “affiliates, subsidiaries, [*10] successors, or assigns”; “assumption of risk”; “inherent risk of injury”; “includes, but is not limited to”; and “I agree to defend, indemnify and hold Life Time Fitness harmless.” The use of such technical legal language militates against the conclusion that the release of liability was clear and simple to a lay person.

¶ 26 Third, the first of the two clauses relied on by Life Time bears the following heading: “under Chapter 458, 459, 460, or Chapter 461 ASSUMPTION OF RISK.” At oral argument, counsel for Life Time conceded that the reference to multiple chapters was ambiguous and confusing, and he could not explain to what the chapters referred. Our research has not enlightened us on the subject. Conscientious lay persons could reasonably have skipped over the fine print appearing under that heading, believing it did not apply to them because they would have no reason to understand that chapters 458, 459, 460, or 461 had any relevance to their situation. Thus, the assumption of risk heading was not clear and unambiguous.

¶ 27 Fourth, the dominant focus of the Agreement is on the risks of strenuous exercise and use of exercise equipment at the fitness center:

  • The opening paragraph [*11] of the Agreement contains the following warning: “All members are strongly encouraged to have a complete physical examination by a medical doctor prior to beginning any work out program or strenuous new activity. If I have a history of heart disease, I agree to consult a physician before becoming a Life Time Fitness member.”
  • Under the confusing assumption of risk heading, the first sentence states, “I understand that there is an inherent risk of injury, whether caused by me or someone else, in the use of or presence at a Life Time Fitness Center, the use of equipment and services at a Life Time Fitness Center, and participation in Life Time Fitness’ programs.”
  • There then follows a listing of types of risks, including the use of “indoor and outdoor pool areas with waterslides, a climbing wall area, ball and racquet courts, cardiovascular and resistance training equipment,” and other specified programs, as well as
  • “[i]njuries arising from the use of Life Time Fitness’ centers or equipment” and from activities and programs sponsored by Life Time; “[i]njuries or medical disorders resulting from exercise at a
  • Life Time Fitness center, including, but not limited to heart attacks, strokes, [*12] heart stress, spr [sic] broken bones and torn muscles or ligaments”; and “[i]njuries resulting from the actions taken or decisions made regarding medical or survival procedures.”

¶ 28 Fifth, the term “inherent risk of injury” that appears in the assumption of risk clause has been applied in various Colorado statutes and case law to address waivers of liability only for activities that are dangerous or potentially dangerous. Thus, the General Assembly has provided for releases from liability in circumstances such as activities involving horses and llamas, section 13-21-119, C.R.S. 2016; being a spectator at baseball games, section 13-21-120, C.R.S. 2016; agricultural recreation or agritourism activities (including hunting, shooting, diving, and operating a motorized recreational vehicle on or near agricultural land), section 13-21-121, C.R.S. 2016; skiing, section 33-44-109, C.R.S. 2016; and spaceflight activities, section 41-6-101, C.R.S. 2016. Significantly, not one of these statutory exemptions from liability extends to the use of locker rooms, rest rooms, or dressing rooms associated with these activities. Rather, the releases of liability extend only to the dangerous or potentially dangerous activities themselves.

¶ 29 Colorado’s published cases concerning the term “inherent risks” similarly concern dangerous or potentially [*13] dangerous activities. For example, the term “inherent risks” has been addressed in cases involving skiing, Graven v. Vail Assocs., Inc., 909 P.2d 514, 519 (Colo. 1995); horseback riding, Heil Valley Ranch, Inc., 784 P.2d at 782; medical procedures or surgical techniques, Mudd v. Dorr, 40 Colo. App. 74, 78-79, 574 P.2d 97, 101 (1977); and attendance at roller hockey games, Teneyck v. Roller Hockey Colo., Ltd., 10 P.3d 707, 710 (Colo. App. 2000). Thus, in reported cases, the term “inherent risks” has been limited to dangerous or potentially dangerous activities, rather than accidents occurring in more common situations, such as using locker rooms.

¶ 30 In light of this statutory and case law backdrop, the use of the inherent risk language in the assumption of risk clause, and the Agreement’s focus on the use of exercise equipment and facilities and physical injuries resulting from strenuous exercise, one could reasonably conclude that by signing the Agreement he or she was waiving claims based only on the inherent risks of injury related to fitness activities, as opposed to washing one’s hands. Indeed, Stone so stated in her affidavit submitted in opposition to the motion for summary judgment.

¶ 31 Sixth, Life Time contends that the only relevant language we need consider is that set forth in the second exculpatory clause, labeled “RELEASE OF LIABILITY.” That provision begins [*14] by stating that “I waive any and all claims or actions that may arise against Life Time . . . as a result of any such injury.” (Emphasis added.) The quoted language, however, is the first use of the term “injury” in the release of liability clause. So the scope of the release can be determined only by referring back to the confusing assumption of risk clause. It is not surprising then that Life Time’s counsel characterized the release’s reference to “such injury” as “squirrely.” In any event, all of the ambiguities and confusion in the assumption of risk clause necessarily infect the release clause.

¶ 32 Seventh, the exculpatory clauses repeatedly use the phrases “includes, but is not limited to” and “including and without limitation,” as well as simply “including.” The repeated use of these phrases makes the clauses more confusing, and the reader is left to guess whether the phrases have different meanings. The problem is compounded by conflicting views expressed by divisions of this court on whether the similar phrase “including, but not limited to” is expansive or restrictive. Compare Maehal Enters., Inc. v. Thunder Mountain Custom Cycles, Inc., 313 P.3d 584, 590 (Colo. App. 2011) (declining to treat the phrase as restrictive and citing Bryan A. Garner, A Dictionary of Modern [*15] Legal Usage 432 (2d ed. 1995)), with Ridgeview Classical Sch. v. Poudre Sch. Dist., 214 P.3d 476, 483 (Colo. App. 2008) (declining to conclude that the phrase took the statute out of the limiting rule of ejusdem generis). For purposes of deciding this case we need not resolve this conflict; the relevance of the conflict for present purposes is that it creates another ambiguity.

¶ 33 That ambiguity – expansive versus restrictive – is critical because nothing in the Agreement refers to risks of using sinks or locker rooms. The assumption of risk clause refers to the “risk of loss, theft or damage of personal property” for the member or her guests while “using any lockers” at a Life Time fitness center. That is quite a separate matter, however, from suffering a physical injury in a locker room.

¶ 34 Significantly, when Life Time intends to exclude accidental injuries occurring in locker rooms, it knows how to draft a clear waiver of liability doing so. In Geczi v. Lifetime Fitness, 973 N.E.2d 801, 803 (Ohio Ct. App. 2012), the plaintiff entered into a membership agreement with Life Time in 2000 (eleven years before Stone entered into the Agreement), which provided in relevant part:

[T]he undersigned agrees to specifically assume all risk of injury while using any of the [*16] Clubs[‘] facilities, equipment, services or programs and hereby waives any and all claims or actions which may arise against LIFE TIME FITNESS or its owners and employees as a result of such injury. The risks include, but are not limited to

. . . .

(4) Accidental injuries within the facilities, including, but not limited to the locker rooms, . . . showers and dressing rooms.

Id. at 806. Life Time chose not to include similar language in the Agreement signed by Stone.

c. The Agreement Is not Clear, Unambiguous, and Unequivocal

¶ 35 Based on the foregoing discussion, and after scrutinizing the exculpatory clauses, we conclude that the Agreement uses excessive legal jargon, is unnecessarily complex, and creates a likelihood of confusion or failure of a party to recognize the full extent of the release provisions. See Chadwick, 100 P.3d at 467. Accordingly, the Agreement does not clearly, unambiguously, and unequivocally bar Stone’s PLA claim based on the injuries she alleges she sustained after she washed her hands in the women’s locker room.

III. Conclusion

¶ 36 The judgment on Stone’s negligence claim is affirmed, the judgment on her PLA claim is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings on that claim.

JUDGE [*17] TAUBMAN and JUDGE FOX concur.


Delaware Supreme Court decision quickly determines a health club release is not void because of public policy issues and is clear and unequivocal.

The decision is very short and very clear. Write a clear and direct release and it will be upheld in Delaware.

Ketler v. PFPA, LLC, 2016 Del. LEXIS 19

State: Delaware, Supreme Court of Delaware

Plaintiff: Deshaun Ketler and Brittany Ketler

Defendant: PFPA, LLC, a Delaware Corporation, d/b/a Planet Fitness

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the defendant

Year: 2016

This is a Delaware Supreme Court decision on release law in Delaware from a lawsuit against a health club.

The plaintiff sued the defendant Planet Fitness because she was injured at the health club, a cable broke on a seated rowing machine she was using.

The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings finding the release stopped the claims of the plaintiff. The plaintiff appealed.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The Delaware Supreme Court did not waste a single sentence in this very short very instructive decision.

Releases are valid in Delaware. They must be clear and unequivocal if a release is to be valid.

This Court has previously recognized that a release of prospective negligence may be valid. Such a release must be “‘clear and unequivocal’ to insulate a party from liability

The court looked to the language of the release, and without comment stated the language was clear and unequivocal.  The court then looked at the other issues that may void a release.

The release may not be unconscionable.

Unconscionability is a concept that is used sparingly. Traditionally, an unconscionable contract is one which “no man in his senses and not under delusion would make on the one hand, and as no honest or fair man would accept, on the other.”

Unconscionable in Delaware means more than a just a disparity between the party’s ability to bargain. There must be no real choice for the party being offered the release or agreement.

But mere disparity between the bargaining powers of parties to a contract will not support a finding of unconscionability.” “[T]here must be an absence of meaningful choice and contract terms unreasonably favorable to one of the parties.” There is no deprivation of meaningful choice if a party can walk away from the contract. Here, DeShaun was free to accept the Planet Fitness membership or not. The Superior Court did not err in concluding that the release is not unconscionable.

Because the plaintiff was not being forced to sign the contract and a health club contract was not a necessity, the plaintiff could have walked away from the release. Thus the release was not unconscionable.

The next issue was whether the release violated public policy. In Delaware to violate public policy, there must be a statute specifically saying that a release for this activity violates public policy.

The public policy of this state is typically determined by the Delaware General Assembly. No Delaware statute has been identified which bears on the validity of a release of prospective negligence.

The statute must not only look at the issues identified in the release, but must specifically say a release is void for these issues.

However, a general release by its nature releases a party from a potential liability otherwise imposed by law. The public policy involved must be one which disapproves of the release.

The judgement of the lower court was affirmed.

So Now What?

There is very little instructional language in this decision. However, what information is provided is very clear and very easy to understand. Releases in Delaware if they are clear and unequivocal will be upheld in the state.

clip_image002What do you think? Leave a comment.

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FB, Twitter or LinkedIn

Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

To Purchase Go Here:

Copyright 2016 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

Mobile Site: http://m.recreation-law.com

By Recreation Law           Rec-law@recreation-law.com     James H. Moss

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, Delaware, Health Club, Planet Fitness, Release, Public Policy, Unequivocal,

 


Ketler v. PFPA, LLC, 2016 Del. LEXIS 19

Ketler v. PFPA, LLC, 2016 Del. LEXIS 19

Deshaun Ketler and Brittany Ketler, his wife, Plaintiff-Below, Appellant, v. PFPA, LLC, a Delaware Corporation, d/b/a Planet Fitness, Defendant-Below, Appellee.

No. 319, 2015

SUPREME COURT OF DELAWARE

2016 Del. LEXIS 19

December 2, 2015, Submitted

January 15, 2016, Decided

NOTICE:

THIS OPINION HAS NOT BEEN RELEASED FOR PUBLICATION IN THE PERMANENT LAW REPORTS. UNTIL RELEASED, IT IS SUBJECT TO REVISION OR WITHDRAWAL.

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1] Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware. C.A. No. N14C-12-235.

Ketler v. PFPA, LLC, 2015 Del. Super. LEXIS 270 (Del. Super. Ct., June 3, 2015)

DISPOSITION: Upon appeal from the Superior Court. AFFIRMED.

COUNSEL: Edward T. Ciconte, Esquire, Adam F. Wasserman, Esquire, Ciconte, Scerba & Kerrick, LLC, Wilmington, Delaware, for Appellant.

Gary H. Kaplan, Esquire, Jessica L. Tyler, Esquire, Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, Wilmington, Delaware, for Appellee.

JUDGES: Before STRINE, Chief Justice; VALIHURA, and VAUGHN, Justices.

OPINION BY: VAUGHN

OPINION

VAUGHN, Justice:

Plaintiffs-Below/Appellants DeShaun Ketler and Brittany Ketler appeal from a Superior Court order granting Defendant-Below/Appellee PFPA, LLC’s (“Planet Fitness”) motion for judgment on the pleadings. DeShaun Ketler was injured while using exercise equipment in a Planet Fitness facility. The Ketlers claim that the injuries were caused by negligence on the part of Planet Fitness. The Superior Court found that the Ketlers claim was barred by a signed release of liability. It determined that a release which allows a party to avoid liability for its own negligence is permissible under Delaware Law if the release is unambiguous, not unconscionable, and not against public policy. It further determined that the release satisfied all three criteria. [*2] On appeal, the Ketlers contend that the Superior Court erred because the release is ambiguous, unconscionable, and against public policy. We approve the Superior Court’s determinations and affirm.

In 2010, DeShaun joined Planet Fitness at a cost of $10 per month.1 DeShaun signed a membership agreement, which contained the following:

I understand and expressly agree that my use of this Planet Fitness facility . . . involves the risk of injury to me or my guest whether caused by me or not. I understand that these risks can range from minor injuries to major injuries including death. In consideration of my participation in the activities and use of the facilities offered by Planet Fitness, I understand and voluntarily accept this risk and agree that Planet Fitness . . . will not be liable for any injury, including, without limitation, personal, bodily, or mental injury. . . resulting from the negligence of Planet Fitness or anyone on Planet Fitness’ behalf whether related to exercise or not. Accordingly, I do hereby forever release and discharge Planet Fitness from any and all claims, demands, injuries, damages, actions or causes of action. I further understand and acknowledge that Planet [*3] Fitness does not manufacture fitness or other equipment in its facilities, but purchases and/or leases equipment, and therefore Planet Fitness may not be held liable for defective products.2

In April 2013, DeShaun was injured when a cable broke on a seated rowing machine that he was using at Planet Fitness.

1 Devana Fitness, LLC was the franchisee of the Planet Fitness location on the date the Membership Agreement was executed. On July 31, 2012, prior to Ketler’s incident, Devana Fitness, LLC assigned its rights and interests in, and under, all Membership Agreements to PFPA, LLC.

2 Appellant’s Op. Br. App. at A8.

This Court has previously recognized that [HN1] a release of prospective negligence may be valid.3 Such a release must be “‘clear and unequivocal’ to insulate a party from liability . . . .”4 The release provision involved here expressly releases Planet Fitness from any liability for any injury resulting from the negligence of Planet Fitness, whether related to exercise or not. It expressly releases Planet Fitness from any and all claims or causes of action. The provision’s language is clear and unequivocal.

3 Riverbend Cmty., LLC v. Green Stone Eng’g, LLC, 55 A.3d 330, 336 (Del. 2012).

4 Id. (quoting State v. Interstate Amiesite Corp., 297 A.2d 41, 44 (Del. 1972)).

[HN2] It must also not be unconscionable. Unconscionability is a concept that [*4] is used sparingly.5 Traditionally, an unconscionable contract is one which “no man in his senses and not under delusion would make on the one hand, and as no honest or fair man would accept, on the other.”6 “But mere disparity between the bargaining powers of parties to a contract will not support a finding of unconscionability.”7 “[T]here must be an absence of meaningful choice and contract terms unreasonably favorable to one of the parties.”8 There is no deprivation of meaningful choice if a party can walk away from the contract.9 Here, DeShaun was free to accept the Planet Fitness membership or not. The Superior Court did not err in concluding that the release is not unconscionable.

5 See Progressive Int’l Corp. v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 2002 Del. Ch. LEXIS 91, 2002 WL 1558382, at *11 (Del. Ch. July 9, 2002) (discussing the reluctance of courts to apply the doctrine).

6 Reserves Mgmt., LLC v. Am. Acquisition Prop., LLC, 86 A.3d 1119, 2014 WL 823407, at *9 (Del. 2014) (internal quotations omitted).

7 Id.

8 Tulowitzki v. Atl. Richfield Co., 396 A.2d 956, 960 (Del. 1978).

9 See Graham v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 565 A.2d 908, 913 (Del. 1989) (finding the doctrine of unconscionability inapplicable, in part, because the plaintiffs had the opportunity to cancel the insurance policy); Progressive, 2002 Del. Ch. LEXIS 91, 2002 WL 1558382, at *11 (rejecting the plaintiff’s unconscionability argument, in part, because nothing had prevented the plaintiff from walking away from a contract with allegedly unfavorable terms).

Finally, [HN3] the release must not violate public policy. The public policy of this state is typically [*5] determined by the Delaware General Assembly. No Delaware statute has been identified which bears on the validity of a release of prospective negligence. The Ketlers argue that the release violates the public policy embodied in the principle that a property owner has a duty to make his property safe for business invitees. However, a general release by its nature releases a party from a potential liability otherwise imposed by law. The public policy involved must be one which disapproves of the release.

For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the Superior Court is AFFIRMED.


Two releases, same plaintiff’s, same defendants releases cancel each other out and defendant is left with a lawsuit

The health club had a release in its membership agreement and a separate release. The appellate court said the difference in the language created an ambiguity which canceled both releases.

Lotz et al., v. The Claremont Club et al., 2013 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 5748

State: California, Court of Appeal of California, Second Appellate District, Division Two

Plaintiff: Nicholas Lotz (Nicholas) by and through his guardian ad litem Deborah Lotz (Deborah) and Deborah individually (mother)

Defendant: The Claremont Club (Club) and Adam Qasem

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and gross negligence

Defendant Defenses: execution of a release and express assumption of risk, and according to the assumption of risk doctrine. actions did not rise to the level of gross negligence.

Holding: for the plaintiff

Year: 2013

This case concerns dodgeball. A great game when played by kids, a pretty nasty game when one of the players is 18 and all the other players are ten.

The plaintiff was in the health club’s day-care program. While in the program an employee who was not trained in working in the day-care program, at the suggestion of another kid, allowed the kids to play dodgeball. The game was held in a racquetball court and played with the kids. One of employee’s throws a ball hitting the plaintiff smashing his face into the wall where he suffered injuries.

The court continuously pointed out several facts, to the point of becoming monotonous:

·        No one told the mother that the kids would be playing dodgeball

·        Of course if told, the mother post injury stated, she would not have allowed her son to play dodgeball

·        The defendant who through the fateful ball had never had any training in working in the childcare area called the InZone.

·        The defendant had never worked in the childcare.  

·        The club’s written policies stated only racquetball, handball, squash and wall ball could be played in the racquetball court.

·        The defendant violated the Club’s then unwritten policy that supervisors not participate in dodgeball games with the children.

The parents of the plaintiff signed two forms when they enrolled at the club. The first was the membership agreement. The membership agreement had boxes to check for activities that you might be interested in. Dodgeball was not listed as a possible activity. The second agreement was a release. Both documents contained exculpatory language.

The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims based on the release(s) and the plaintiff appealed.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The court first reviewed the requirements, in its view, for a valid release under California law.

California courts require a high degree of clarity and specificity in a [r]elease in order to find that it relieves a party from liability for its own negligence.” Thus, “to be effective, an agreement which purports to release, indemnify or exculpate the party who prepared it from liability for that party’s own negligence or tortious conduct must be clear, explicit and comprehensible in each of its essential details. Such an agreement, read as a whole, must clearly notify the prospective releaser or indemnitor of the effect of signing the agreement.”

But “a release need not achieve perfection” to be effective. A release is sufficient if it “‘constitutes a clear and unequivocal waiver with specific reference to a defendant’s negligence

The court found the releases were not “crystal clear.” The court then looked at the issue of ambiguity in contracts.

‘An ambiguity exists when a party can identify an alternative, semantically reasonable, candidate of meaning of a writing. An ambiguity can be patent, arising from the face of the writing, or latent, based on extrinsic evidence.’ The circumstances under which a release is executed can give rise to an ambiguity that is not apparent on the face of the release. If an ambiguity as to the scope of the release exists, it should normally be construed against the drafter.

The defendant club had argued that the release was the valid release for the purposes of the discussion. (How you designate one contract over another is beyond me. The “Parol Evidence” rule specifically prohibits this.) However, the plaintiff argued the membership agreement contained the operative language because it stated:

This Agreement constitutes my sole and only agreement respecting release, waiver of liability, assumption of the risk, and indemnity concerning my involvement in The Claremont Club. Any prior written or oral agreements, promises, representations concerning the subject matter contained in this Agreement and not expressly set forth in this Agreement have no force or effect.

Because this created an ambiguity in the language of the contracts and created a question about which contract superseded the other, there was a triable issue of fact that could not be decided by a motion for summary judgment.

The court then looked at the language in the release and stated:

Beyond the issue of whether the Waiver or the Membership Agreement contained the operative release, appellants demonstrated a triable issue of fact as to whether the language of either document contemplated the type of injuries suffered by Nicholas.

Because the release, the rules, the unwritten policies and the parents had never been informed that their son might play dodgeball the court held the language in the release(s) did not cover the injury. The court stated that playing dodgeball was an undisclosed risk which was not covered by the release.

The court then went through every way, the defendant club or the defendant had violated their own policies.

·        Playing dodgeball in the racquetball court

·        On one supervising the game (a player is not a supervisor?)

The court also found that the release only applied to the child care, and the injury occurred in the racquetball court that was outside of the childcare area. Therefore, there was a triable issue of fact of whether the release protected the defendants from lawsuits of this type.

The court concluded this section of its opinion by stating the evidence:

…offered on summary judgment demonstrated that the Membership Agreement and/or the Waiver did not clearly and explicitly release the Club from liability for Nicholas’s injuries. In view of the ambiguities concerning whether the Membership Agreement or the Waiver applied, whether the language in either document was sufficient to cover the Club’s conduct and whether any release violated public policy, a trier of fact could find that the Club was not released from liability.

Having found at least four reasons why neither release was valid or covered the risks that created the injury the court reviewed the gross negligence claim. The trial court found the injury was an inherent risk of the game and assumption of risk barred the claim and also the gross negligence claim. An injury from an inherent risk could not be gross negligence.

The court defined gross negligence under California law as this court interpreted the law.

California courts define “‘gross negligence'” “as either a ‘”‘want of even scant care'”‘ or ‘”‘an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.'”‘ Gross negligence “connotes such a lack of care as may be presumed to indicate a passive and indifferent attitude toward results.” In contrast to willful misconduct, gross negligence does not require an intent to do harm or to act with absolute disregard of the consequences.

Backtracking to the issue of playing dodgeball on a racquetball court the court found the club had a policy that prohibited dodgeball on the racquetball court. However, the court found the club knew that dodgeball had been played on the racquetball court and found: “Consistent with the Club’s failure to acknowledge dodgeball as an ongoing activity, it failed to promulgate rules to ensure the game was played safely.” The club also had a rule which stated that supervisors were not to play dodgeball with children, had no training in child care and used an inflated rubber ball for the game as he played it aggressively gave rise to the possibility the actions of the club were grossly negligent.

The last defense the court eliminated was whether assumption of the risk was a defense to the claims of the plaintiff. The court found that because the 18-year-old supervisor played the game, causing the injury, the risk could not be assumed because the defendant had increased the risk over those inherent in the sport. You cannot assume increased risks caused by the defendant who is arguing the defense.

Thus, even though ‘defendants generally have no legal duty to eliminate (or protect a plaintiff against) risks inherent in the sport itself,’ they may not increase the likelihood of injury above that which is inherent.

The court then stated all the ways the two defendants had increased the risk to the plaintiff.

But appellants’ evidence tended to show that the Club and Qasem increased that risk in a number of ways, including by playing on an enclosed racquetball court which was neither intended nor permitted to be used for dodgeball; by selecting rubber balls for the game; by allowing an adult untrained in childcare not only to participate in the game with the children but also to abdicate any supervisory role over them during the game; and by enabling that adult to play aggressively with the children.

The appellate court reversed the trial court and sent the matter back for trial.

So Now What?

This court worked hard to make sure the case was sent back for trial. However, the two poorly written releases gave the court the opportunity to open the door and kick the case back.

Secondly, the defendant club had created rules which it violated. It also admitted to or had rules, which were unwritten that it violated.  

It is bad enough when some third party creates rules that you are forced to live by. It is just dumb to write your own rules and then violated them. It is the classic you have no one to blame but yourself.

If you have rules, and policies provide leeway to allow your staff to think, nothing in life is ever set in stone. Make sure the rules do not conflict with each other and make sure everyone knows the rules and follows them.

At the same time, remember most people can’t memorize a book, even a pamphlet. Your rules need to be written to cover your program and in a way, your staff can remember them and put them to use. Either that or issue every staff person a tablet and make sure they never answer a question without first checking to see if they are violating a rule.

Finally, have one well written release and do not try to write release language into every document, they may cancel each other out leaving you with no defenses.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FaceBook, Twitter or LinkedIn

Copyright 2014 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

Mobile Site: http://m.recreation-law.com

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, Release, Health Club, Gym, Dodgeball, Day Care, Club Rules,

 


Lotz et al., v. The Claremont Club et al., 2013 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 5748

Lotz et al., v. The Claremont Club et al., 2013 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 5748

Nicholas, a Minor, etc., Plaintiffs and Appellants, Defendants and Respondents.

B242399

COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA, SECOND APPELLATE DISTRICT, DIVISION TWO

August 15, 2013, Opinion Filed

NOTICE: NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS. CALIFORNIA RULES OF COURT, RULE 8.1115(a), PROHIBITS COURTS AND PARTIES FROM CITING OR RELYING ON OPINIONS NOT CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION OR ORDERED PUBLISHED, EXCEPT AS SPECIFIED BY RULE 8.1115(b). THIS OPINION HAS NOT BEEN CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION OR ORDERED PUBLISHED FOR THE PURPOSES OF RULE 8.1115.

PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. KC061412, Peter J. Meeka, Judge.

DISPOSITION: Reversed and remanded.

CORE TERMS: dodgeball, triable, membership, ball, summary judgment, issues of fact, gross negligence, sport, playing, racquetball, played, inherent risk, hit, childcare, assumption of risk, ambiguity, risk of injury, risk of harm, rubber ball, matter of law, participating, aggressively, supervised, training, thrown, riding, player, risk doctrine, risk doctrine, evidence showed

COUNSEL: Magaña, Cathcart & McCarthy and Charles M. Finkel for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

Manning & Kass, Ellrod, Ramirez, Trester, Anthony J. Ellrod and David J. Wilson for Defendants and Respondents.

JUDGES: FERNS, J. *; ASHMANN-GERST, Acting P. J., CHAVEZ, J. concurred.

* Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, assigned by the Chief Justice pursuant to article VI, section 6 of the California Constitution.

OPINION BY: FERNS, J.

OPINION

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants and respondents The Claremont Club (Club) and Adam Qasem (Qasem) on the complaint brought by minor Nicholas Lotz (Nicholas) by and through his guardian ad litem Deborah Lotz (Deborah) and Deborah individually (sometimes collectively appellants). 1 Nicholas was injured in a dodgeball game that took place while he was in the Club’s childcare program. The trial court ruled that a release signed by Nicholas’s father barred appellants’ claims and there was no evidence showing the Club’s conduct amounted to gross negligence beyond the scope of the release. It further ruled the primary assumption of risk doctrine [*2] barred appellants’ claims.

1 We use first names for convenience only; no disrespect is intended.

We reverse. The evidence offered by appellants showed there were triable issues of material fact regarding the scope and application of multiple releases, whether the Club’s and Qasem’s conduct constituted gross negligence and whether their conduct increased the risk of harm inherent in the game of dodgeball.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Club Membership.

In 2001, Thomas Lotz (Thomas) signed The Claremont Club Membership Agreement (Membership Agreement) and completed a membership information form indicating that he was seeking a family membership for himself, Deborah and their two children. On the information form, Thomas put a check mark by some of the specified sports and activities in which he and his family were interested in participating. Dodgeball was not included among the list of activities.

The Membership Agreement included a section entitled “Waiver of Liability” that provided in relevant part: “IT IS EXPRESSLY AGREED THAT USE OF THE CLUB FACILITIES, PARTICIPATION IN CLUB-SPONSORED OUTSIDE ACTIVITIES OR EVENTS AND TRANSPORTATION PROVIDED BY THE CLUB SHALL BE UNDERTAKEN BY A MEMBER [*3] OR GUEST AT HIS/HER SOLE RISK AND THE CLUB SHALL NOT BE LIABLE FOR ANY INJURIES OR ANY DAMAGE TO ANY MEMBER OR GUEST . . . .” The provision further stated that the member voluntarily assumed the risk of personal injury and released the Club and its employees from every demand, claim or liability on account of any personal injury.

On the same day he signed the Membership Agreement, Thomas signed a separate document captioned Waiver of Liability, Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement (Waiver) that contained a provision stating: “This Agreement constitutes my sole and only agreement respecting release, waiver of liability, assumption of the risk, and indemnity concerning my involvement in The Claremont Club.” The Waiver further provided in part: “I, for myself, my spouse, if any, my heirs, personal representative or assigns, and anyone claiming through or under me do hereby release, waive, discharge, and covenant not to sue The Claremont Club . . . for liability from any and all claims including the negligence of the Claremont Club, resulting in damages or personal injury . . . .” The Waiver further identified certain activities provided at the Club–again excluding dodgeball–together [*4] with the risks arising therefrom, and required Thomas to assert that his participation was voluntary and “that I knowingly assume all such risks.” The Waiver’s concluding paragraph provided for Thomas’s understanding “THAT I AM GIVING UP SUBSTANTIAL RIGHTS, INCLUDING MY RIGHT TO SUE.”

Together with a Club attorney, Club president and chief executive officer Mike Alpert helped prepare the Waiver. According to Alpert, only the Waiver–not the waiver of liability contained in the Membership Agreement–was in full force and effect at the time Thomas signed both documents. None of the documents that Thomas and Deborah signed in connection with their Club membership informed them that dodgeball would be played on Club premises.

Nicholas Is Injured in a Dodgeball Game at the Club.

The “InZone” was part of the Club’s childcare department; it provided a clubhouse environment for older children that included ping pong, foosball and video games. In-house sports and a specialized fitness room were also available as part of the InZone. A document provided to parents describing InZone activities identified a number of sports in which a child might participate; it did not mention dodgeball.

On April 13, [*5] 2005, Deborah checked 10-year-old Nicholas into the InZone between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m. No one advised Deborah or Thomas that Nicholas might be playing dodgeball as part of the InZone activities. That day, Club employee Qasem was scheduled to work at the front desk. Eighteen-year-old Qasem had worked part-time at the Club for approximately one year as a lifeguard, weight room attendant and at the front desk. He had never worked in the InZone and the Club had not provided him with any training to work with children.

At some point during his shift, Qasem left the front desk to work in the children’s fitness room. He was the only individual supervising approximately eight to 15 children, including Nicholas. One of the children suggested the group play dodgeball, and Qasem agreed. He took the children to the Club’s racquetball court because he had observed dodgeball being played there once or twice. The Club’s written policies, however, stated “[o]nly racquetball, handball, squash and Wally ball may be played on the racquetball courts.” Qasem had never played dodgeball at the Club, nor had he ever seen any written rules concerning dodgeball.

Though Qasem was uncertain whether he provided the [*6] children with any rules before they began playing the game, he may have told them to throw the ball below their waists. During the game, anywhere from three to six balls were being thrown at one time; each rubber ball was filled with air and was about the size of a soccer ball. About 20 minutes into the game, Qasem threw a ball using a sidearm motion hard and fast toward Nicholas. The ball hit Nicholas’s face and slammed his head into the wall behind him, leaving tooth marks on the wall. Nicholas suffered multiple dental injuries as a result of being hit by the ball.

At the time of the game, Qasem was six feet tall and weighed approximately 145 pounds. According to Nicholas, Qasem had been playing aggressively throughout the game. By playing in the game, Qasem had also violated the Club’s then unwritten policy that supervisors not participate in dodgeball games with the children. No one had previously been injured in a dodgeball game at the Club. After that game, Qasem was disciplined for failing to follow childcare policies and procedures, and one of his superiors instructed him not to play dodgeball at the Club.

Nicholas had previously played dodgeball at school. Though the players [*7] were instructed to not throw the ball at other players’ heads, he understood there was some risk of being hit in the head with the ball. The balls used at school, however, were similar to a Nerf ball and softer than those used at the InZone. Had Thomas and Deborah been advised that Nicholas would be playing dodgeball on a racquetball court with rubber balls, they would not have given their permission for him to do so.

The Intramural Rules of Dodgeball provide the game is one in which players try to hit others with a ball and avoid being hit themselves. “The main objective is to eliminate all members of the opposing team by hitting them with thrown balls, catching a ball thrown by a member of the opposing team, or forcing them outside of the court boundaries.” The National Dodgeball League Rules and Regulations of Play specify that a player committing a “headshot”–hitting another player in the head by a high thrown ball–will be deemed out of the game.

The Pleadings and Summary Judgment.

In June 2011, appellants filed their complaint alleging negligence and gross negligence and seeking general and special damages. They alleged that Nicholas was injured as a result of the Club’s negligently [*8] and recklessly “a. hiring, employing, training, entrusting, instructing, and supervising defendant ADAM QASEM; [¶] b. failing to adequately [] protect children under the care of defendant ADAM QASEM; [¶] c. participating in a game of dodge ball in an unreasonably forceful and dangerous manner so as to endanger the health, safety and welfare of children placed by their parents into the care of defendants.”

In December 2011, the Club and Qasem moved for summary judgment. They argued that appellants’ negligence claims were barred by Thomas’s execution of a release and express assumption of risk, and according to the assumption of risk doctrine. They further argued their actions did not rise to the level of gross negligence. In support of their motion, they submitted the Membership agreement, appellants’ discovery responses, deposition excerpts and Qasem’s declaration. They also sought judicial notice of several principles related to dodgeball rules and manner of play.

Appellants opposed the motion and filed evidentiary objections. They argued that triable issues of material fact existed concerning the scope of the Waiver, whether the Club’s conduct amounted to gross negligence and whether [*9] Nicholas’s injury was the result of an inherent risk of the game of dodgeball. They offered deposition excerpts, Club policies, medical records and several declarations in support of their arguments. Sports and Recreational Consultants president Steve Bernheim opined that the Club “did not take the proper measures to protect the children who were in its care, custody and control during the dodgeball game in which Nicholas Lotz was injured.” More specifically, the children were not provided with game-appropriate rules, the racquetball court was an insufficient space, use of the rubber balls was inappropriate and an adult should not have been playing with the children. He further opined that Qasem acted recklessly and that his conduct, coupled with the other conditions of the game, increased the risks inherent in the game of dodgeball and were outside the range of ordinary activity associated with the sport.

The Club replied and also filed evidentiary objections. At a March 2012 hearing, the trial court granted the motion. Though the trial court edited the proposed judgment to eliminate any reasons for its ruling, at the hearing the trial court first referred to childhood dodgeball experience [*10] as the basis for its decision: “When I went to school, we called it Warball, and we didn’t use Nerf balls because there weren’t any. It was a ball. When it hit you, it stung. And we all knew that. Everybody knew it. And it was just one of those games you played in school, and high school for that matter.” Turning to the evidence, the trial court construed the Waiver to apply to Thomas’s family members as well as Thomas, reasoning that the Club would have expected Thomas to be executing a release on behalf of all family members when he joined. The trial court further explained that even if it were to ignore the Waiver, appellants’ claims would be barred by the assumption of risk doctrine. It further found that the Club’s and Qasem’s conduct did not rise to the level of gross negligence as a matter of law, reasoning there was no evidence that Qasem was trying to injure Nicholas and that such an injury could have occurred in the context of any type of sport. It did not rule on any of the evidentiary objections.

Judgment was entered in June 2012, and this appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

Appellants maintain that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment and assert they offered evidence [*11] sufficient to create triable issues of fact concerning the scope and application of the Waiver, the existence of gross negligence and the application of the assumption of risk defense. We agree that triable issues of fact preclude the granting of summary judgment.

I. Standard of Review.

We review a grant of summary judgment de novo and independently determine whether the facts not subject to triable dispute warrant judgment for the moving party as a matter of law. (Intel Corp. v. Hamidi (2003) 30 Cal.4th 1342, 1348; Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (2001) 25 Cal.4th 826, 849-850.) To secure summary judgment, the moving defendant must show that one or more elements of the cause of action cannot be established, or that there is a complete defense to the cause of action, and that it “is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” (Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co., supra, at p. 850.) Once that burden is met, the burden “shifts to the [other party] to show that a triable issue of one or more material facts exists as to that cause of action.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (p)(2); Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co., supra, at p. 850.)

We assume the role of the trial court and redetermine the [*12] merits of the motion. (Barber v. Marina Sailing, Inc. (1995) 36 Cal.App.4th 558, 562.) “In doing so, we must strictly scrutinize the moving party’s papers. [Citation.] The declarations of the party opposing summary judgment, however, are liberally construed to determine the existence of triable issues of fact. [Citation.] All doubts as to whether any material, triable issues of fact exist are to be resolved in favor of the party opposing summary judgment. [Citation.]” (Ibid.; accord, Hamburg v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (2004) 116 Cal.App.4th 497, 502.) “Because a summary judgment denies the adversary party a trial, it should be granted with caution. [Citation.]” (Acosta v. Glenfed Development Corp. (2005) 128 Cal.App.4th 1278, 1292.) The court’s role is to focus “on issue finding; it does not resolve issues of fact. The court seeks to find contradictions in the evidence, or inferences reasonably deducible from the evidence, which raise a triable issue of material fact.” (Ibid.)

II. Appellants Raised Triable Issues of Fact as to Whether the Waiver Applied to Release Their Claims.

At the hearing on the motion, the trial court indicated that one basis for its ruling was the application of [*13] a written release. It stated: “Here, dad is signing the release on behalf of the family. Mom could have signed the release on behalf of the family and had a check and paid for the membership. And even though there are some slight twists and turns here, I guess nothing is ever completely crystal clear. I think the release really hurts the plaintiff or plaintiffs here.” Though the trial court’s comments fail to demonstrate whether it relied on the Membership Agreement or the Waiver as providing the operative release, the Club argues on appeal that the release contained in the Membership Agreement was clear and unambiguous, and applied to release appellants’ claims.

“California courts require a high degree of clarity and specificity in a [r]elease in order to find that it relieves a party from liability for its own negligence.” (Cohen v. Five Brooks Stable (2008) 159 Cal.App.4th 1476, 1488 (Cohen).) Thus, “to be effective, an agreement which purports to release, indemnify or exculpate the party who prepared it from liability for that party’s own negligence or tortious conduct must be clear, explicit and comprehensible in each of its essential details. Such an agreement, read as a whole, [*14] must clearly notify the prospective releaser or indemnitor of the effect of signing the agreement.” (Ferrell v. Southern Nevada Off-Road Enthusiasts, Ltd. (1983) 147 Cal.App.3d 309, 318.) Waiver and release forms are strictly construed against the defendant. (Lund v. Bally’s Aerobic Plus, Inc. (2000) 78 Cal.App.4th 733, 738.) But “a release need not achieve perfection” to be effective. (National & Internat. Brotherhood of Street Racers, Inc. v. Superior Court (1989) 215 Cal.App.3d 934, 938.) A release is sufficient if it “‘constitutes a clear and unequivocal waiver with specific reference to a defendant’s negligence.'” (Paralift, Inc. v. Superior Court (1993) 23 Cal.App.4th 748, 755.)

Here, Thomas represented in his membership application that he sought Club membership on behalf of his family. The release contained in the Membership Agreement provided that the member and guests assumed the risk of Club activities and released the Club from liability for participation in Club activities. A contract in which a party expressly assumes a risk of injury is, if applicable, a complete defense to a negligence action. (See Knight v. Jewett (1992) 3 Cal.4th 296, 308, fn. 4 (Knight); Sweat v. Big Time Auto Racing, Inc. (2004) 117 Cal.App.4th 1301, 1304.) [*15] Moreover, it is well settled a parent may execute a release on behalf of his or her child. (Aaris v. Las Virgenes Unified School Dist. (1998) 64 Cal.App.4th 1112, 1120 (Aaris); Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist. (1990) 224 Cal.App.3d 1559, 1565.) By offering evidence of the Membership Agreement, the Club met its threshold burden to demonstrate a complete defense to appellants’ negligence claims.

In contrast to the trial court, however, we conclude the evidence offered by appellants showing that the release was not “crystal clear” satisfied their burden to demonstrate triable issues of material fact. As summarized in Benedek v. PLC Santa Monica (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 1351, 1357: “The determination of whether a release contains ambiguities is a matter of contractual construction. [Citation.] ‘An ambiguity exists when a party can identify an alternative, semantically reasonable, candidate of meaning of a writing. [Citations.] An ambiguity can be patent, arising from the face of the writing, or latent, based on extrinsic evidence.’ [Citation.] The circumstances under which a release is executed can give rise to an ambiguity that is not apparent on the face of the release. [Citation.] [*16] If an ambiguity as to the scope of the release exists, it should normally be construed against the drafter. [Citations.]”

Here, appellants demonstrated an ambiguity by offering evidence that the Waiver–not the Membership Agreement–contained the operative release. The Waiver contained language effectively negating any other release, providing: “This Agreement constitutes my sole and only agreement respecting release, waiver of liability, assumption of the risk, and indemnity concerning my involvement in The Claremont Club. Any prior written or oral agreements, promises, representations concerning the subject matter contained in this Agreement and not expressly set forth in this Agreement have no force or effect.” Club president Alpert testified that only the Waiver was the operative agreement at the time Thomas joined the Club. The Waiver, however, inconsistently provided in one paragraph that Thomas was giving up his right to sue on behalf of his spouse and heirs, and in another paragraph that he was relinquishing only his personal right to sue. Other language in the Waiver that “I hereby assert that my participation is voluntary and that I knowingly assume all such risks” likewise [*17] suggested that the Waiver was intended to be personal only. Given appellants’ identification of an “alternative, semantically reasonable” construction of the Waiver, the evidence created a triable issue of fact concerning whether and to what extent the Waiver applied to appellants’ claims. (See Solis v. Kirkwood Resort Co. (2001) 94 Cal.App.4th 354, 360.)

Beyond the issue of whether the Waiver or the Membership Agreement contained the operative release, appellants demonstrated a triable issue of fact as to whether the language of either document contemplated the type of injuries suffered by Nicholas. Both the Membership Agreement and the Waiver released the Club from liability for personal injury from Club activities. “‘Where a participant in an activity has expressly released the defendant from responsibility for the consequences of any act of negligence, “the law imposes no requirement that [the participant] have had a specific knowledge of the particular risk which resulted in his death [or injury.]” . . . Not every possible specific act of negligence by the defendant must be spelled out in the agreement or discussed by the parties. . . . Where a release of all liability for any [*18] act of negligence is given, the release applies to any such negligent act, whatever it may have been. . . . “It is only necessary that the act of negligence, which results in injury to the releasor, be reasonably related to the object or purpose for which the release is given.“‘ [Citation.]” (Leon v. Family Fitness Center (#107), Inc. (1998) 61 Cal.App.4th 1227, 1234-1235 (Leon).) 2

2 The Leon court separately evaluated an assumption of risk provision and a general release in a health club membership agreement. (Leon, supra, 61 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1234, 1235.) It reasoned that for an assumption of the risk provision to be effective, “‘it must also appear that its terms were intended by both parties to apply to the particular conduct of the defendant which has caused the harm.'” (Id. at p. 1234.) We find this analysis sufficiently similar to that required for a general release to engage in a single evaluation.

Appellants offered evidence creating a triable issue of fact as to whether an injury from a child playing dodgeball was sufficiently related to the purpose of the release. Neither Thomas nor Deborah were ever informed that Nicholas would be playing dodgeball at the Club. Dodgeball [*19] was not identified as a Club activity in any of the Club materials. It was not listed as an activity in either the Membership Agreement or the Waiver. It did not appear on the list of Club activities in the membership information form. According to the Club’s written policies, it was not among the activities permitted to be played on the Club’s racquetball courts. Likewise, the Club maintained a policy to preclude supervisors from engaging in dodgeball games with children.

These circumstances are analogous to those in Cohen, supra, 159 Cal.App.4th 1476. There, the plaintiff was injured during a horseback ride when the guide unexpectedly caused his horse to gallop, knowing that it would cause the horses following to do the same, and the plaintiff was unable to control her galloping horse. (Id. at p. 1480.) Before riding, the plaintiff had signed a release that described some but not all of the risks inherent in horseback riding and provided that she agreed “‘to assume responsibility for the risks identified herein and those risks not specifically identified.‘ (Italics added.)” (Id. at p. 1486.) Finding this language unambiguous, the trial court granted summary judgment. (Id. at pp. 1482-1483.) [*20] The appellate court reversed, reasoning the exculpatory provision was problematic, as “[t]he ‘risks not specifically identified’ could refer to the risks inherent in horseback riding left unidentified by the phrase ‘some, but not all,’ which seems to us the most reasonable assumption, but it might also refer to risks arising out of respondent’s negligence that increase[] the inherent risks.” (Id. at p. 1486.) Stated another way, the court explained that “[t]he Release presented to appellant clearly does not unambiguously, let alone explicitly, release respondent from liability for injuries caused by its negligence or that of its agents and employees which increase a risk inherent in horseback riding.” (Id. at p. 1488.)

At a minimum, appellants’ evidence that dodgeball was an undisclosed risk and an activity contrary to the Club’s written policies raised a triable issue of fact as to whether it was a risk that was reasonably related to the purpose for which any release was given. Evidence of Qasem’s conduct likewise raised a triable issue of fact as to whether such a risk was encompassed by the Waiver. (See Cohen, supra, 159 Cal.App.4th at p. 1489 [“Nothing in the Release clearly, unambiguously, [*21] and explicitly indicates that it applies to risks and dangers attributable to respondent’s negligence or that of an employee that may not be inherent in supervised recreational trail riding,” italics omitted]; see also Sweat v. Big Time Auto Racing, Inc., supra, 117 Cal.App.4th at p. 1308 [release in favor of racetrack owner for injuries suffered while in a racetrack’s restricted area did not apply to injuries sustained after defectively constructed bleachers collapsed]; Leon, supra, 61 Cal.App.4th at p. 1235 [release that allowed the plaintiff to engage in fitness activities at a health club did not apply to injuries from a collapsed sauna bench].)

On the other hand, the circumstances here bear no similarity to those in Aaris, supra, 64 Cal.App.4th 1112, a case on which the Club relies. There, the court found that a high school cheerleader and her family assumed the risk of injuries resulting from cheerleading activities. On the basis of that finding, the court also affirmed summary judgment on the ground that a release of liability for school activities barred any claim for injuries. The court reasoned that the assumption of risk doctrine “embodies the legal conclusion that defendant [*22] owed no duty to protect appellant from the risk of harm inherent in the athletic activity. [Citation.] There being no duty, there was no negligence.” (Id. at p. 1120.) Ignoring that the Aaris court’s holding was based on a finding of no negligence rather than any application of the release, the Club emphasizes that the release applied notwithstanding its failure to specify “cheerleading,” and argues that the Membership Agreement’s and Waiver’s references to Club activities must therefore similarly be construed to encompass dodgeball. But in Aaris, the only reasonable inference to be drawn from the evidence was that the sole purpose of the release was to address injuries resulting from cheerleading. Here, Thomas and Deborah did not even know that Nicholas would be participating in a dodgeball game. Moreover, the trial court in Aaris ruled that the undisputed evidence showed “‘that the instructor did not increase the risk of harm inherent in the activity, the participants received adequate and proper[] training in technique and safety, and they were properly and reasonably supervised.'” (Id. at p. 1117.) In sharp contrast, appellants’ evidence showed that Qasem should not have been playing [*23] dodgeball and played aggressively, he violated the Club’s written policy concerning use of the racquetball court and no one else was supervising the game.

Finally, appellants offered evidence to show that the InZone was part of the Club’s childcare department. On the day of the dodgeball game, Deborah signed Nicholas in to the Club’s InZone program. Club wellness director Denise Johnson testified that she was aware children played dodgeball on the racquetball courts while being supervised under the childcare department. To the extent that the Club’s Membership Agreement or Waiver purported to release it from liability for injuries occurring in its childcare program, appellants raised a triable issue of fact as to whether such an agreement would be void against public policy. (Gavin W. v. YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles (2003) 106 Cal.App.4th 662, 676 [“we hold that exculpatory agreements that purport to relieve child care providers of liability for their own negligence are void as against public policy”].)

In sum, the evidence offered on summary judgment demonstrated that the Membership Agreement and/or the Waiver did not clearly and explicitly release the Club from liability for Nicholas’s [*24] injuries. In view of the ambiguities concerning whether the Membership Agreement or the Waiver applied, whether the language in either document was sufficient to cover the Club’s conduct and whether any release violated public policy, a trier of fact could find that the Club was not released from liability. (See Zipusch v. LA Workout, Inc. (2007) 155 Cal.App.4th 1281, 1288 [“if a release is ambiguous, and it is not clear the parties contemplated redistributing the risk causing the plaintiff’s injury, then the contractual ambiguity should be construed against the drafter, voiding the purported release”].) The undisputed evidence failed to show the Club and Qasem were absolved from liability as a matter of law according to the Membership Agreement or the Waiver.

III. Appellants Raised Triable Issues of Fact Whether the Club Was Liable for Gross Negligence.

In City of Santa Barbara v. Superior Court (2007) 41 Cal.4th 747, 751 (Santa Barbara), our State’s highest court held “that an agreement made in the context of sports or recreational programs or services, purporting to release liability for future gross negligence, generally is unenforceable as a matter of public policy.” Relying on Santa [*25] Barbara, appellants opposed the Club’s summary judgment motion on the alternative ground that, even if the Club’s most comprehensive release language was unambiguous, there was a triable issue of fact as to whether the Club’s conduct amounted to gross negligence. The trial court ruled: “It is not gross negligence. He wasn’t trying to injure the child on purpose, any more than a child would be injured playing hockey or soccer, or anything like that.” Again, we disagree.

California courts define “‘gross negligence'” “as either a ‘”‘want of even scant care'”‘ or ‘”‘an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.'”‘ [Citations.]” (Santa Barbara, supra, 41 Cal.4th at p. 754; accord, Eriksson v. Nunnink (2011) 191 Cal.App.4th 826, 857.) Gross negligence “connotes such a lack of care as may be presumed to indicate a passive and indifferent attitude toward results.” (Calvillo-Silva v. Home Grocery (1998) 19 Cal.4th 714, 729, disapproved on other grounds in Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co., supra, 25 Cal.4th at p. 853, fn. 19.) In contrast to willful misconduct, gross negligence does not require an intent to do harm or to act with absolute disregard of the consequences. (Meek v. Fowler (1935) 3 Cal.2d 420, 425; [*26] see also Hawaiian Pineapple Co. v. Ind. Acc. Com. (1953) 40 Cal.2d 656, 662 [“While gross negligence may involve an intent to perform the act or omission, wilful misconduct involves the further intent that the performance be harmful or that it be done with a positive, active and absolute disregard of the consequences”].) Though not always, “[g]enerally it is a triable issue of fact whether there has been such a lack of care as to constitute gross negligence. [Citations.]” (Decker v. City of Imperial Beach (1989) 209 Cal.App.3d 349, 358; accord, Santa Barbara, supra, at pp. 767, 781.)

Appellants offered sufficient evidence to create a triable issue of fact as to whether the Club’s and Qasem’s conduct amounted to gross negligence. According to the undisputed evidence, while the Club’s policies prohibited dodgeball being played on the racquetball courts, Club employees–including the childcare director–knew the courts were used for children’s dodgeball games. Nonetheless, none of the Club’s materials identified dodgeball as an available activity. Consistent with the Club’s failure to acknowledge dodgeball as an ongoing activity, it failed to promulgate rules to insure the game was played [*27] safely. When Nicholas was dropped off at the InZone program, no one advised his parents that he might play dodgeball. In this particular instance, children initiated a dodgeball game while being supervised by an 18-year-old front desk clerk who had no childcare training. Qasem selected inflated rubber balls for the game and participated aggressively in the game with the children, even though the Club’s policy was that supervisors not play dodgeball. Nicholas was injured after Qasem threw the ball extremely hard and extremely fast, using a sidearm motion.

On the basis of this evidence, appellants offered Bernheim’s expert opinion that “the injury to Nicholas Lotz occurred during an extreme departure from what must be considered as the ordinary standard of conduct when children are playing dodgeball and are supposed to be . . . supervised.” We agree that appellants’ evidence was sufficient to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether the Club’s and Qasem’s conduct was an extreme departure from ordinary care or, at a minimum, demonstrated passivity and indifference toward results. A trier of fact could find gross negligence on the basis of the Club’s failure to address the repeated violation [*28] of its own policy prohibiting dodgeball play on the racquetball courts, failure to implement rules or policies designed to protect those playing dodgeball and failure to provide any training to individuals assigned to supervise the children in its childcare program. Triable issues existed as to whether the Club’s and Qasem’s conduct was grossly negligent and therefore outside the scope of any release in either the Membership Agreement or the Waiver.

IV. Appellants Raised Triable Issues of Fact Whether the Assumption of Risk Doctrine Barred Liability.

As a further basis for granting summary judgment, the trial court determined that the Club met its burden to show the primary assumption of risk doctrine was a viable defense and that appellants failed to offer any effective rebuttal. It analogized the circumstances here to those in a previous case in which it found the doctrine barred recovery to a high school student injured during a soccer game. We fail to see the analogy.

“Primary assumption of risk occurs where a plaintiff voluntarily participates in a sporting event or activity involving certain inherent risks. For example, an errantly thrown ball in baseball or a carelessly extended [*29] elbow in basketball are considered inherent risks of those respective sports. [Citation.] Primary assumption of risk is a complete bar to recovery. [Citation.] [¶] Primary assumption of risk is merely another way of saying no duty of care is owed as to risks inherent in a given sport or activity. The overriding consideration in the application of this principle is to avoid imposing a duty which might chill vigorous participation in the sport and thereby alter its fundamental nature. [Citation.]” (Wattenbarger v. Cincinnati Reds, Inc. (1994) 28 Cal.App.4th 746, 751-752, citing Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th 296.) “Knight however does not grant unbridled legal immunity to all defendants participating in sporting activity. The Supreme Court has stated that ‘. . . it is well established that defendants generally do have a duty to use due care not to increase the risks to a participant over and above those inherent in the sport.‘ ([Knight, supra,] 3 Cal.4th at pp. 315-316, italics added.) Thus, even though ‘defendants generally have no legal duty to eliminate (or protect a plaintiff against) risks inherent in the sport itself,’ they may not increase the likelihood of injury above that which is [*30] inherent. (Id. at p. 315.)” (Campbell v. Derylo (1999) 75 Cal.App.4th 823, 827.) Thus, “when the plaintiff claims the defendant’s conduct increased the inherent risks of a sport, summary judgment on primary assumption of risk grounds is unavailable unless the defendant disproves the theory or establishes a lack of causation. [Citations.]” (Huff v. Wilkins (2006) 138 Cal.App.4th 732, 740.)

Much of appellants’ evidence that we deemed sufficient to raise a triable issue of fact on the question of gross negligence likewise created a triable issue as to whether the Club and Qasem increased the risk of harm inherent in the game of dodgeball. 3 Certainly, being hit by a ball is one of the objectives of and hence an inherent risk in the game of dodgeball. But appellants’ evidence tended to show that the Club and Qasem increased that risk in a number of ways, including by playing on an enclosed racquetball court which was neither intended nor permitted to be used for dodgeball; by selecting rubber balls for the game; by allowing an adult untrained in childcare not only to participate in the game with the children but also to abdicate any supervisory role over them during the game; and by enabling [*31] that adult to play aggressively with the children. Given the totality of the circumstances, we cannot say, as a matter of law, that Nicholas assumed the risk of being hit in the head with a ball.

3 We acknowledge that the application of the primary assumption of risk doctrine is a question of law. (Knight, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 313.) But where a defendant engages in conduct that is not an inherent risk of the sport and the imposition of a duty of care will neither alter the nature of nor chill participation in the sport, the question becomes one of ordinary negligence, with the remaining elements beyond duty to be determined by a trier of fact. (Yancey v. Superior Court (1994) 28 Cal.App.4th 558, 565-567.)

Other courts have similarly reversed a grant of summary judgment where the plaintiff’s evidence raised a triable issue of fact as to whether the defendant’s conduct increased the inherent risks in a sport or other recreational activity. Lowe v. California League of Prof. Baseball (1997) 56 Cal.App.4th 112 is particularly instructive. There, the plaintiff filed suit after he was injured by a foul ball while watching a baseball game, and the trial court granted summary judgment, finding [*32] the doctrine of primary assumption of risk barred his claims. (Id. at p. 120.) In reversing, the appellate court relied on evidence showing the plaintiff was hit when he turned toward a team mascot who had repeatedly tapped his shoulder. (Id. at pp. 117-118, 123.) The court explained that while foul balls represent an inherent risk to spectators attending a baseball game, “we hold that the antics of the mascot are not an essential or integral part of the playing of a baseball game. In short, the game can be played in the absence of such antics. Moreover, whether such antics increased the inherent risk to plaintiff is an issue of fact to be resolved at trial.” (Id. at p. 123; see also Vine v. Bear Valley Ski Co. (2004) 118 Cal.App.4th 577, 591 [though skiers assume the risk of injury from the sport, triable issue of fact existed whether ski resort’s jump design increased the risk of harm]; Morgan v. Fuji Country USA, Inc. (1995) 34 Cal.App.4th 127, 134 [while a golfer assumes the risk of being hit by a golf ball, golf course owner owes a duty to minimize that risk, and the plaintiff raised a triable issue of fact as to whether that duty was breached where evidence showed the design [*33] of certain holes may have increased that risk].)

We find no merit to the Club’s and Qasem’s argument that appellants’ evidence demonstrated merely that their conduct may have increased the severity of Nicholas’s injuries as opposed to increasing the risk of injury. In Calhoon v. Lewis (2000) 81 Cal.App.4th 108, the plaintiff suffered injury when he fell off his skateboard and hit a metal pipe protruding from a planter in the defendants’ driveway. Finding the primary assumption of risk doctrine barred his claims, the court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the concealed metal pipe increased his risk of harm: “[The plaintiff] was injured because he fell. As [he] concedes, falling is an inherent risk of skateboarding, and the presence of the pipe or the planter had nothing to do with his falling down. The fact that [his] injuries were more severe than they would have been if the pipe had not been in the planter does not make the assumption of risk doctrine inapplicable. The Knight exception applies when the defendant increased the risk of injury beyond that inherent in the sport, not when the defendant’s conduct may have increased the severity of the injury suffered.” (Id. at p. 116.) [*34] Here, in contrast, appellants’ evidence showed that the Club and Qasem increased the risk of injury by initiating the dodgeball game in which Nicholas participated. This was not the type of situation where Nicholas would have been playing dodgeball absent the Club’s and Qasem’s involvement. Moreover, the evidence raised a triable issue of fact as to whether the Club and Qasem increased the risk of injury by permitting dodgeball play on the racquetball court, by failing to adopt rules for safe play, by Qasem’s failing to act as a supervisor during the game, by his selecting rubber balls for the game and by his participating aggressively in the game. The Club and Qasem were not entitled to summary judgment on the ground the primary assumption of risk doctrine barred appellants’ claims.

DISPOSITION

The judgment is reversed and the matter is remanded with directions for the trial court to vacate its order granting summary judgment and to enter a new order denying summary judgment. Appellants are entitled to their costs on appeal.

, J. *

* Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, assigned by the Chief Justice pursuant to article VI, section 6 of the California Constitution.

FERNS

We concur:

, Acting [*35] P. J. ASHMANN-GERST , J. CHAVEZ


Well written decision from Wyoming defines release law and how releases should be written.

This case is interesting because one of the attempts to remove the release from the decision was a claim the plaintiff was at the defendant gym working out because he was told to by a physician, and the gym was owned by a different physician.

Massengill, v. S.M.A.R.T. Sports Medicine Clinic, P.C., 996 P.2d 1132; 2000 Wyo. LEXIS 21

Plaintiff: James Massengill and Kaylea Massengill

Defendant: S.M.A.R.T. Sports Medicine Clinic, P.C.

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence, loss of consortium

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: For the defendant

The plaintiff was injured when a pin in a lat-pull-down machine that secured the weights came out, and he fell backwards injuring his wrist. The plaintiff sued, and the defendant raised the defense of release.

The plaintiff was told by his physician to exercise more. One day while at a drugstore, he had met an owner of the defendant gym, a physician, who talked to him about the gym.

The plaintiff and his wife went to the gym. They were given a release and told to take it home and read it. Three days later the plaintiff’s came back, signed the release and began to use the facilities.

The plaintiff had not asked for instructions on the lat-pull-down machine and did not ask for any because he had used one previously. He had been using the particular machine for a month and had noticed that the pin did not appear to fit when he was injured.

The trial court ruled the release was valid and barred the claims of the plaintiffs, dismissing the case. The plaintiff’s appealed. This case is based in Wyoming, which only has trial courts and the Wyoming Supreme Court, in intermediate appellate courts.

Summary of the case

The court first looked at the language of the release, to determine if the language was clear and unequivocal.

Our reading of the Agreement and Release convinces us that the intention of S.M.A.R.T., and the Massengills is expressed in clear and unequivocal language. The language clearly assigns the risk to members who agree to be liable for any and all risks. The Agreement and Release continues with an unequivocal statement that S.M.A.R.T. shall not be liable for any injuries or damages to any member or the member’s property, including those caused by the negligence of S.M.A.R.T.

The court found the language was clear and unequivocal as well as broad and specially released the defendant from claims and actions for negligence.

The court then examined the release based on contract law. Releases are contracts and are interpreted using traditional contract principles. The entire document is examined as a whole.

The language of the Agreement and Release is clear in manifesting an intention to release S.M.A.R.T. and those involved with the facility from liability; it specifically states that S.M.A.R.T. will not be held liable for “those damages resulting from acts of negligence on the part of S.M.A.R.T. SPORTS, its officers or agents.”

Wyoming has four factors to examine to determine if a release is valid.

(1) whether a duty to the public exists;

(2) the nature of the service performed;

(3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and

(4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language

The court found the release in question was properly reviewed by the trial court, and the release met all four tests. The court then looked at the plaintiff’s claims the release violated public policy. Under Wyoming law, a duty to the public exists “if the nature of the business or service affects the public interest, and the service performed is considered an essential service.” A release that affecting a public interest giving rise to a duty to the public is one that:

“concerns a business of a type generally thought suitable for public regulation. The party seeking exculpation is engaged in performing a service of great importance to the public, which is often a matter of practical necessity for some members of the public. The party holds himself out as willing to perform this service for any member of the public who seeks it * * *. As a result of the essential nature of the service, in the economic setting of the transaction, the party invoking exculpation possesses a decisive advantage of bargaining strength against any member of the public who seeks his services.”

In Wyoming, this list of businesses would be “common carriers, hospitals and doctors, public utilities, innkeepers, public warehousemen, employers, and services involving extra-hazardous activities.”

A health club or gym is recreational in nature and do not meet the requirements and do not qualify as a business suitable for public regulation. A gym or health club is not essential.

The services offered by S.M.A.R.T. to its members were those of a private recreational business which did not qualify as suitable for public regulation because they did not affect the public interest nor could they be considered as necessary or essential….

Then court then looked at the plaintiff’s claims that he was at the gym for medical reasons. However, the court could find no evidence that the plaintiff was at the gym engaging in rehabilitation.

The court then looked at the plaintiff’s claim that there was a disparity of bargaining power between the parties which should void the release. However, this argument also failed.

Since membership in a private recreational facility such as S.M.A.R.T. is purely optional and does not qualify as an essential service, no decisive bargaining advantage exists. “A disparity of bargaining power will be found when a contracting party with little or no bargaining strength has no reasonable alternative to entering the contract at the mercy of the other’s negligence.

The plaintiff’s raised one final argument that claimed the Wyoming Recreational Safety Act, Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 1-1-121 to 1-1-123:

…creates a statutory duty on the part of providers of a sport or recreational opportunity because it preserves actions based upon negligence if damage or injury is not the result of an inherent risk of the sport or recreational opportunity.

The court called this a convoluted argument and did not agree with the argument.

The final argument was based on the wife’s claim for loss of consortium. The court held there were two different ways this claim also failed. The first was the wife signed a release at the same time as her husband; the plaintiff and the release stopped her suit. Also because her claim of loss of consortium is derivative, meaning only can exist if the original claim exists, then her claim fails also.

The record reflects that Massengill’s participation was purely recreational and S.M.A.R.T. did not owe him a public duty. S.M.A.R.T. is not engaged in a type of business generally thought suitable for public regulation, and Massengill was engaged in a recreational activity not an activity pursuant to a physician’s order.

The court upheld the trial courts dismissal of the claims.

So Now What?

This is a great decision to assist in writing a release in Wyoming. Of interest was the fact the court pointed out, the plaintiffs were given three days to review the release before signing.

The four requirements for a release are similar to most other states. How you deal with the issue of someone at your facility for health or rehabilitation reasons might present a problem.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FaceBook, Twitter or LinkedIn

Copyright 2013 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

Mobile Site: http://m.recreation-law.com

By Recreation Law       Rec-law@recreation-law.com              James H. Moss               #Authorrank

<rel=”author” link=” https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/112453188060350225356/” />

#AdventureTourism, #AdventureTravelLaw, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #AttorneyatLaw, #Backpacking, #BicyclingLaw, #Camps, #ChallengeCourse, #ChallengeCourseLaw, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #CyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #FitnessLawyer, #Hiking, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation, #IceClimbing, #JamesHMoss, #JimMoss, #Law, #Mountaineering, #Negligence, #OutdoorLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #OutsideLaw, #OutsideLawyer, #RecLaw, #Rec-Law, #RecLawBlog, #Rec-LawBlog, #RecLawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #RecreationLaw, #RecreationLawBlog, #RecreationLawcom, #Recreation-Lawcom, #Recreation-Law.com, #RiskManagement, #RockClimbing, #RockClimbingLawyer, #RopesCourse, #RopesCourseLawyer, #SkiAreas, #Skiing, #SkiLaw, #Snowboarding, #SummerCamp, #Tourism, #TravelLaw, #YouthCamps, #ZipLineLawyer, Wyoming, Gym, Health Club, S.M.A.R.T., Rehabilitation, Lat-Pull-Down,

 


Massengill, v. S.M.A.R.T. Sports Medicine Clinic, P.C., 996 P.2d 1132; 2000 Wyo. LEXIS 21

Massengill, v. S.M.A.R.T. Sports Medicine Clinic, P.C., 996 P.2d 1132; 2000 Wyo. LEXIS 21

James Massengill and Kaylea Massengill, Appellants (Plaintiffs), v. S.M.A.R.T. Sports Medicine Clinic, P.C., Appellee (Defendant).

No. 98-150

SUPREME COURT OF WYOMING

996 P.2d 1132; 2000 Wyo. LEXIS 21

February 14, 2000, Decided

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County. The Honorable Nicholas G. Kalokathis, Judge.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

COUNSEL: Representing Appellants: Robert A. Hampe, Cheyenne, Wyoming (Withdrew pursuant to an Order of Suspension Upon Consent entered in the Wyoming Supreme Court on June 18, 1999.)

Representing Appellee: John I. Henley of Vlastos, Brooks, Henley & Drell, P.C., Casper, Wyoming.

JUDGES: Before LEHMAN, C.J., and THOMAS, MACY, GOLDEN, and TAYLOR, * JJ.

* Retired November 2, 1998.

OPINION BY: THOMAS

OPINION

[*1132] THOMAS, Justice.

The only issue in this case is whether a waiver of liability in a contract between S.M.A.R.T. Sports Medicine Clinic, P.C. (S.M.A.R.T.) and James Massengill (Massengill) is enforceable under the standards adopted in Schutkowski v. Carey, 725 P.2d 1057 (Wyo. 1986) and followed in later cases. Massengill was using a lat-pull-down machine at S.M.A.R.T. when a pin used to secure the weights fell out. Apparently the pin did not fit properly in the machine, and when the pin fell out, Massengill fell over backwards injuring his wrist. In various statements of the [*1133] issues, Massengill attacks the validity of the waiver of liability on the grounds [**2] that it violated public policy; the business of S.M.A.R.T. is suitable for public regulation; the use of the premises at the time of injury by Massengill is not material; the question of duty is one that must be determined by a trier of fact; and S.M.A.R.T. owed a statutory duty to Massengill which invalidates the waiver. Our review of the record and legal precedent in Wyoming persuades us that the district court ruled correctly that there is no genuine issue of material fact in this case, and S.M.A.R.T. is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The Order Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is affirmed.

In the Appellants’ Supreme Court Brief, filed on behalf of James Massengill and Kaylea Massengill (collectively the Massengills), these issues are stated:

Issue I

Did the district court error [sic] in validating the “waiver of liability” in the “sports specific training and advanced rehab agreement and release[“] due to the fact that:

(A) The release violated public policy,

(B) The business operated by appellee is suitable for public regulation, and

(C) Plaintiff J. Massengill was engaged in non therapeutic activities on the premises of [**3] the medical clinic has no bearing on whether the release should be validated or not?

Issue II

Is the duty issue in this case purely a question of law where the basic facts are undisputed or is the duty issue one which can only be determined by the trier of fact?

Issue III

Did appellee owe a statutory duty of care to appellant which would invalidate the waiver incorporated in the sports specific training and advanced rehabilitation agreement & release?

In the Brief of Appellee S.M.A.R.T. Sports Medicine Clinic, P.C., the issues are stated in this way:

Was the waiver of liability executed by the Appellants valid[?]

(i) Was the Appellee’s waiver language inclusive and unambiguous as required by prior Wyoming Supreme Court case law; [or]

(ii) Is the waiver language of the Appellee contrary to public policy[?]

One evening James Massengill engaged in a conversation at a Cheyenne drugstore with the equity owner of S.M.A.R.T., a physician in Cheyenne. Massengill knew that S.M.A.R.T. had a weight room, and had seen recent advertisements to the effect that the facility offered personal trainers to assist members. In the course of a brief [**4] conversation, Massengill mentioned his interest in S.M.A.R.T.’s facilities, and the physician suggested he come over and try it out. A month or two following the conversation, Massengill went to S.M.A.R.T. and toured the facilities. The purpose of his initial visit was to assure himself that the equipment met his need, which was to get in better condition.

After he had been shown the facilities and the equipment, Massengill was given a Sports Specific Training and Advanced Rehabilitation Agreement and Release (Agreement and Release) to take home and review. Three days later, both Massengill and his wife executed the Agreement and Release, and they began using the facilities. Massengill was present at S.M.A.R.T. almost every day, and he had been using the lat-pull-down machine for nearly a month prior to his injury. He had not asked any questions about using the machine because he had used one previously. On March 13, 1996, Massengill was warming up on the machine, and he noticed that the pin holding the weights was shaped like a “T” rather than the longer “I” usually used. When Massengill pulled the bar down, the pin holding the weights popped out, and he fell over backwards, hitting [**5] his left hand and injuring his wrist.

On May 29, 1997, the Massengills filed their Complaint for Negligence and Damages. The first count of the Complaint for Negligence and Damages was couched in terms of alleged negligence causing injury to James Massengill, and the second count was couched in terms of recovery by Kaylea Massengill [*1134] for loss of consortium based upon her husband’s injuries. Various procedural steps, including discovery, followed the Answer by S.M.A.R.T., which included the affirmative defense of waiver and the affirmative defense that Kaylea Massengill’s claims were derivative of James Massengill’s claim. On October 3, 1997, there was filed by facsimile a Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment accompanied by a Memorandum in Support of Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Additional procedural steps ensued, and on February 2, 1998, the district court entered an Order Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

The district court ruled that the exculpatory clause, including the release and waiver, was not ambiguous and was enforceable. Since the premise for the grant of the summary judgment by the district court was the language contained in the Agreement [**6] and Release, the district court ruled implicitly that any other issues of fact, genuine or not, were not material. The Massengills have appealed from the Order Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

In Mercado v. Trujillo, 980 P.2d 824, 825-26 (Wyo. 1999), we summarized our rules with respect to review of summary judgments:

“‘When [HN1] a motion for summary judgment is before the supreme court, we have exactly the same duty as the district judge; and, if there is a complete record before us, we have exactly the same material as did he. We must follow the same standards. The propriety of granting a motion for summary judgment depends upon the correctness of a court’s dual findings that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the prevailing party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. This court looks at the record from the viewpoint most favorable to the party opposing the motion, giving to him all favorable inferences to be drawn from the facts contained in affidavits, depositions and other proper material appearing in the record.'” Reno Livestock Corporation v. Sun Oil Company (Delaware), Wyo., 638 P.2d 147, 150 (1981). [**7] See also, Blackmore v. Davis Oil Company, Wyo., 671 P.2d 334, 336 (1983).

“A [HN2] summary judgment should only be granted where it is clear that there are no issues of material facts involved and that an inquiry into the facts is unnecessary to clarify the application of law. Johnson v. Soulis, Wyo., 542 P.2d 867 (1975). A material fact is one which has legal significance. Johnson v. Soulis, supra. It is a fact which would establish a defense. Wood v. Trenchard, Wyo.[,] 550 P.2d 490 (1976). [HN3] After the movant establishes a prima facie case the burden of proof shifts to the opposing party who must show a genuine issue of material fact, Gennings v. First Nat’l Bank of Thermopolis, Wyo., 654 P.2d 154 (1982), or come forward with competent evidence of specific facts countering the facts presented by the movant. Matter of the Estate of Brosius, Wyo., 683 P.2d 663 (1984). The burden is then on the nonmoving party to show specific facts as opposed to general allegations. 10 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil § 2727, p. 538. The material presented must be admissible evidence [**8] at trial. Conclusory statements are not admissible. Bancroft v. Jagusch, Wyo., 611 P.2d 819 (1980). We give the party defending the motion the benefit of any reasonable doubt.” Roth v. First Security Bank of Rock Springs, Wyoming, Wyo., 684 P.2d 93, 95 (1984).

Nowotny v. L & B Contract Industries, 933 P.2d 452, 455 (Wyo.1997) (quoting Thomas by Thomas v. South Cheyenne Water and Sewer Dist., 702 P.2d 1303, 1304 (Wyo.1985)).

More specifically and succinctly, with respect to this case, when review is sought of a summary judgment this Court must determine that there is no genuine issue of a material fact and the party prevailing in the district court is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Utilization of summary judgment serves the purpose of eliminating formal trials where only questions of law are involved. [HN4] In accomplishing the review of a summary judgment resting upon a question [*1135] of law, our review is de novo and affords no deference to the district court’s ruling on that question. E.g., Roberts v. Klinkosh, 986 P.2d 153, 156 (Wyo. 1999); Gray v. Norwest Bank Wyoming, N.A., 984 P.2d 1088, 1091 (Wyo. 1999); [**9] Ahrenholtz v. Time Ins. Co., 968 P.2d 946, 949 (Wyo. 1998).

Our reading of the Agreement and Release convinces us that the intention of S.M.A.R.T. and the Massengills is expressed in clear and unequivocal language. The language clearly assigns the risk to members who agree to be liable for any and all risks. The Agreement and Release continues with an unequivocal statement that S.M.A.R.T. shall not be liable for any injuries or damages to any member or the member’s property, including those caused by the negligence of S.M.A.R.T. It continues with this language:

1. Any member using S.M.A.R.T. SPORTS facility shall undertake any and all risks. The member shall also be liable for any and all risks. S.M.A.R.T. SPORTS shall not be liable for any injuries or damage to any member, or the property of the member, or be subject to any claim, demand, injury or damages whatsoever, including, without limitation, those damages resulting from acts of negligence on the part of S.M.A.R.T. SPORTS, its officers or agents. The member, for himself/herself and on behalf of his/her executors, administrators, heirs, assigns, and assignees and successors, does hereby expressly forever [**10] waive, release and discharge S.M.A.R.T. SPORTS, its owners, officers, employees, agents, assigners and successors from all such claims, demands, injuries, damages, actions or causes of action.

The language of the Agreement and Release is broad, and specifically releases S.M.A.R.T. from claims and actions for negligence. Indeed, the Massengills do not assert that the agreement does not apply to this action; instead, their contention is that the agreement is not enforceable. In the absence of any genuine issue of a material fact with respect to the language of the Agreement and Release, the issue is a pure question of law with respect to whether the district court invoked and correctly applied the pertinent rules of law.

In Shepard v. Top Hat Land & Cattle Co., 560 P.2d 730, 732 (Wyo. 1977), the applicable rule was summarized:

[HN5] If the language of the contract is plain and unequivocal that language is controlling and the interpretation of the contractual provisions is for the court to make as a matter of law. The meaning of the instrument is to be deduced only from its language if the terms are plain and unambiguous. Mauch v. Ballou, Wyo., 499 P.2d 591 (1972); [**11] Craig v. Gudim, Wyo., 488 P.2d 316 (1971); Chandler-Simpson, Inc. v. Gorrell, Wyo., 464 P.2d 849 (1970); Flora Construction Company v. Bridger Valley Electric Association, Inc., Wyo., 355 P.2d 884 (1960); Barlow v. Makeeff, 74 Wyo. 171, 284 P.2d 1093 (1955).

This rule first was alluded to by this Court in Horvath v. Sheridan-Wyoming Coal Co., 58 Wyo. 211, 230, 131 P.2d 315, 321 (1942), and it has been consistently applied over the years, appearing most recently in Saulcy Land Co. v. Jones, 983 P.2d 1200, 1202 (Wyo. 1999).

[HN6] Exculpatory clauses or releases are contractual in nature, and we interpret them using traditional contract principles and considering the meaning of the document as a whole. Milligan v. Big Valley Corp., 754 P.2d 1063, 1065 (Wyo. 1988); Boehm v. Cody Country Chamber of Commerce, 748 P.2d 704, 712 (Wyo. 1987); Schutkowski, 725 P.2d at 1059; Kelliher v. Herman, 701 P.2d 1157, 1159 (Wyo. 1985). The language of the Agreement and Release is clear in manifesting an intention to release S.M.A. [**12] R.T. and those involved with the facility from liability; it specifically states that S.M.A.R.T. will not be held liable for “those damages resulting from acts of negligence on the part of S.M.A.R.T. SPORTS, its officers or agents.” And, just as in Boehm, 748 P.2d at 712, “[a] plain reading of the language in the context of the entire membership application evidences no other rational purpose for which it could have been intended.”

The Massengills endeavor to avoid the release and waiver articulated in the Agreement and Release by arguing that it is not valid as a matter of public policy because the business of S.M.A.R.T. is appropriate for [*1136] public regulation, and the nature of the use of the equipment by Massengill is not material to the public policy or public regulation determination. We said in Fremont Homes, Inc. v. Elmer, 974 P.2d 952, 956 (Wyo. 1999):

[HN7] In Wyoming, a contract limiting liability for negligence may be enforced only if it does not contravene public policy. Schutkowski v. Carey, 725 P.2d 1057, 1059-60 (Wyo.1986); Boehm v. Cody Country Chamber of Commerce, 748 P.2d 704, 710 (Wyo. 1987); Brittain v. Booth, 601 P.2d 532, 535 (Wyo.1979). [**13]

In Schutkowski, 725 P.2d at 1060, this Court adopted from Colorado a four-part test for evaluating a negligence exculpatory clause. [HN8] The factors the court considers are: “(1) whether a duty to the public exists; (2) the nature of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language.” A comparison of Massengill’s claim with these factors leads to the ineluctable conclusion that the district court’s decision was correct as a matter of law.

We said in Milligan, 754 P.2d at 1066, “[ [HN9] a] duty to the public exists if the nature of the business or service affects the public interest and the service performed is considered an essential service.” We then adopted from California [HN10] a definition of a release agreement affecting the public interest, giving rise to a public duty, which is that it

“concerns a business of a type generally thought suitable for public regulation. The party seeking exculpation is engaged in performing a service of great importance to the public, which is often a matter of practical necessity for [**14] some members of the public. The party holds himself out as willing to perform this service for any member of the public who seeks it * * *. As a result of the essential nature of the service, in the economic setting of the transaction, the party invoking exculpation possesses a decisive advantage of bargaining strength against any member of the public who seeks his services.” (Emphasis added and footnotes omitted.) Tunkl v. Regents of University of California, 60 Cal. 2d 92, 32 Cal. Rptr. 33, 383 P.2d 441, 445-46, 6 A.L.R.3d 693 (1963).

Milligan, 754 P.2d at 1066. We also adopted a [HN11] list of examples of services which are typically subject to public regulation and which demand a public duty or are considered essential. The list includes common carriers, hospitals and doctors, public utilities, innkeepers, public warehousemen, employers, and services involving extra-hazardous activities. Milligan, 754 P.2d at 1066.

Schutkowski was a case involving a sky diving injury, and we held that [HN12] a private recreational business does not qualify as one that owes a special duty to the public nor are its services of a special, highly [**15] necessary nature. Schutkowski, 725 P.2d at 1060. The services offered by S.M.A.R.T. to its members were those of a private recreational business which did not qualify as suitable for public regulation because they did not affect the public interest nor could they be considered as necessary or essential, and there was no greater duty to the public than existed in Schutkowski, Boehm or Milligan. The district court in its Order Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment cites and relies upon decisions from other jurisdictions which have held that [HN13] exculpatory clauses in health club contracts do not violate public policy. Schlobohm v. Spa Petite, Inc., 326 N.W.2d 920, 926 (Minn. 1982); Shields v. Sta-Fit, Inc., 79 Wn. App. 584, 903 P.2d 525, 528 (1995). We are persuaded that the approach of the courts in Minnesota and Washington is the correct rule.

Massengill further maintains that he joined S.M.A.R.T. pursuant to a doctor’s order, and as such was receiving an essential service; therefore, S.M.A.R.T. owed him a public duty that is subject to regulation. A casual conversation, at a drugstore one evening, with the doctor/equity [**16] owner of the S.M.A.R.T. facility hardly qualifies as a prescription. The doctor was not Massengill’s treating physician nor was he acting in that capacity; he engaged in the conversation as the owner of the facility and not a physician. Moreover, the record is devoid of evidence showing that on the day he was injured, Massengill was engaging in a rehabilitation program. He admitted joining S.M.A.R.T. to [*1137] get into better physical condition. That was the purpose of his membership at S.M.A.R.T., and it qualifies as a recreational activity and not a practical necessity. Based on Massengill’s own testimony, his membership was purely recreational and not pursuant to a doctor’s order. There is no genuine issue of material fact as to the purpose or nature of Massengill’s use of the S.M.A.R.T. facility that needs to be resolved.

The third factor in the Schutkowski test is whether the contract was fairly entered into. Since membership in a private recreational facility such as S.M.A.R.T. is purely optional and does not qualify as an essential service, no decisive bargaining advantage exists. “A disparity of bargaining power will be found when a contracting party with little or no bargaining [**17] strength has no reasonable alternative to entering the contract at the mercy of the other’s negligence.” Milligan, 754 P.2d at 1066. Similar to the releases in Milligan, which involved an optional ski race, and Schutkowski, which involved sky diving, no evidence suggests that Massengill was unfairly pressured into signing the agreement or was deprived of the opportunity to understand its implications. In fact, after Massengill initially toured the facilities, he was given the Agreement and Release to take with him, which he filled out at home and returned three days later.

In determining that the Order Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment should be considered under principles of contract law, we held that the last factor of the Schutkowski test is satisfied in this case. The intent of the parties was clearly expressed in clear and unambiguous language. [HN14] We interpret exculpatory clauses or releases using traditional contract principles, and consider the meaning of the document as a whole. Milligan, 754 P.2d at 1067. Just as in Boehm, 748 P.2d at 712, “[a] plain reading of the language in the context of the [**18] entire membership application evidences no other rational purpose for which it could have been intended.”

In a further effort to avoid the Agreement and Release, the Massengills present an argument that the Recreation Safety Act, Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 1-1-121 to 1-1-123 (Lexis 1999), creates a statutory duty on the part of providers of a sport or recreational opportunity because it preserves actions based upon negligence if damage or injury is not the result of an inherent risk of the sport or recreational opportunity. The Massengills rely upon Halpern v. Wheeldon, 890 P.2d 562, 565 (Wyo. 1995), and the distinction drawn in that case between primary assumption of risk and secondary assumption of risk. The thrust of this rather convoluted argument is that, if the conduct of the defendant comes within the category of secondary assumption of risk, a statutory duty is created by the language that preserves actions based on negligence. The Massengills then contend that the Agreement and Release cannot be enforced because it is contrary to the statutory duty. No authority is cited for that precise proposition, and we are satisfied that [HN15] the Recreation Safety Act does not foreclose [**19] the invocation of a contractual release or waiver for negligent conduct that is not released by the assignment of the inherent risk to the person participating in the sport or recreational opportunity under the statute. Indeed, the limited reach of the statute would suggest that a contractual release in addition to the statute would be prudent.

With respect to the claim of Kaylea Massengill for loss of consortium, her cause of action was included in the Order Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. She executed the same Agreement and Release that James Massengill signed. Furthermore, her claim for loss of consortium was derivative of James Massengill’s claim for injuries, and it fails when his claim fails. Verschoor v. Mountain West Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co., 907 P.2d 1293, 1301 (Wyo. 1995); Boehm, 748 P.2d at 708.

The only pertinent issue in this case was whether the exculpatory clause should be held to violate public policy and not enforced for that reason. The record reflects that Massengill’s participation was purely recreational and S.M.A.R.T. did not owe him a public duty. S.M.A.R.T. is not engaged in a type of business generally [**20] thought suitable for public regulation, and Massengill was engaged in a recreational activity not an activity pursuant to a physician’s order. The case [*1138] is correctly resolved as a matter of law under principles relating to contract, and the contractual language being clear and unambiguous, there are no genuine issues of material fact. The case is controlled by Schutkowski and the later cases that followed it. We affirm the district court’s Order Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.


Taylor v. L.A. Fitness International, 2010 Phila. Ct. Com. Pl. LEXIS 252; 16 Pa. D. & C.5th 491

Taylor v. L.A. Fitness International, 2010 Phila. Ct. Com. Pl. LEXIS 252; 16 Pa. D. & C.5th 491

This case was reversed and remanded without an opinion by the SUPERIOR COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA, Taylor, K. v. LA Fitness International, LLC, 32 A.3d 841; 2011 Pa. Super. LEXIS 4194

Kimberly Taylor and Andrew Taylor, h/w v. L.A. Fitness International, LLC d/b/a LA Fitness, USA PT, LLC, d/b/a Body of Change, c/o David White, Jr., Dorian Jefferson Hale

No. 2213

COMMON PLEAS COURT OF PHILADELPHIA COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA, CIVIL TRIAL DIVISION

2010 Phila. Ct. Com. Pl. LEXIS 252; 16 Pa. D. & C.5th 491

August 30, 2010, Decided

CASE SUMMARY:

JUDGES: [*1] Judge John M. Younge.

OPINION BY: John M. Younge

OPINION

[**493] Younge, J.

The Plaintiffs, Kimberly and Andrew Taylor, filed this appeal from this Court’s Order that granted a motion for summary judgment filed by the above-captioned Defendants. 1

1 The Plaintiffs, Kimberly and Andrew Taylor, will be referred to collectively as the Plaintiff throughout the remainder of this Opinion because Andrew Taylor does not assert an independent cause of action against the Defendants. His claim is based on loss of consortium.

Facts and Procedure:

This personal injury action was brought against the Defendants by the Plaintiff, Kimberly Taylor, who was a member of LA Fitness and a client of Body of Change. The Plaintiff was seriously injured in June of 2007 while exercising at the Huntingdon Valley location for the Defendant, LA Fitness. The Plaintiff alleged to have hired [**494] the Defendant, Body of Change, to provide personal trainers to assist her while exercising at LA Fitness. At the specific time of her injury, she alleged to have been exercising with the Defendant, Dorian Jefferson Hale, a personal trainer and agent of the Defendant, Body of Change. In her Complaint, she alleged that Defendant Hale taught her an improper exercise [*2] and failed to properly assist or spot her while exercising. She alleged that the negligence of Defendant Hale caused her shoulder injury. She alleged that Defendant Hale was an agent of LA Fitness and Body of Change. Her claim against Defendants, LA Fitness and Body of Change, was based on agency and vicarious liability under a theory of respondeat superior.

Following discovery, the Defendants filed the motion for summary judgment that is currently at issue in this appeal. In their motion, the Defendants asserted immunity from suit based on exculpatory clauses contained in the Membership Agreement that the Plaintiff entered into with LA Fitness and the Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability that the Plaintiff entered into with Body of Change. 2

2 After this Court granted the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the Plaintiff filed two motions to reconsider this Court’s Order that granted summary judgment. In one of her motions to reconsider, she argued for the first time that she did not sign the membership agreement with LA Fitness. For a complete discussion of why her motion for reconsideration was without merit and a discussion of the procedural history surrounding [*3] that motion see § F of this Opinion.

The Membership Agreement at issue contained an exculpatory clause that read as follows:

[**495] IMPORTANT: RELEASE AND WAIVER OF LIABILITY AND INDEMNITY

You hereby acknowledge and agree that Member’s use of L.A. Fitness’ facilities, services, equipment or premises, involves risks of injury to persons and property, including those described below, and Member assumes full responsibility for such risks. In consideration of being permitted to enter any facility of L.A. Fitness (a “club”) for any purpose including, but not limited to, observation use of facilities, services or equipment, or participation in any way, Member agrees to the following: Member hereby releases and holds L.A. Fitness, its directors, officers, employees, and agents harmless from all liability to Member and Member’s personal representatives, assigns, heirs, and next of kin for any loss or damage and forever gives up any claim or demands therefore, on account of injury to Member’s person or property, including injury leading to death of Member, whether caused by the active or passive negligence of L.A. Fitness or otherwise, to the fullest extent permitted by law, while Member is in, upon, [*4] or about L.A. Fitness premises or using any L.A. Fitness facilities, services, or equipment. Member also hereby agrees to indemnify L.A. Fitness from any loss, liability, damage or cost L.A. Fitness may incur due to the presence of Member in, upon or about the L.A. Fitness premises or in any way observing or using any facilities or equipment of L.A. Fitness whether caused by the negligence of Member or otherwise.

You represent (a) that Member is in good physical condition and has no disability, illness, or other condition that could prevent Member from exercising without injury or impairment of member’s health, and (b) that Member has consulted a physician concerning an exercise [**496] program that will not risk injury to Member or impairment of Member’s health. Such risk of injury includes (but is not limited to): injuries arising from use by Member or others of exercise equipment and machines; injuries arising from participation by Member or others in supervised or unsupervised activities or programs at a Club; injuries and medical disorders arising from exercising at a Club such as heart attacks, strokes, heat stress, sprains, broken bones, and torn muscles and ligaments, among others; [*5] and accidental injuries occurring anywhere in Club dressing rooms, showers and other facilities. Member further expressly agrees that the foregoing release, waiver and indemnity agreement is intended to be as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the law of the State of Pennsylvania and that if any portion thereof is held invalid, it is agreed that the balance shall, notwithstanding, continue in full force and effect. Member has read this release and wavier of liability and indemnity clause, and agrees that no oral representations, statements or inducement apart from this Agreement have been made.

(Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment, Exhibit B (July 6, 2009)).

The Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability with Body of Change contained two clauses that were relevant to the personal injury action brought by the Plaintiff. These clauses are entitled “Acknowledgement & Assumption of Risk” and “Limitation of Liability & Full Release of BOC” and read in relevant part:

Acknowledgement & Assumption of Risk: Client acknowledges that the Services purchased hereunder include participation in strenuous physical activities, including, but not limited to, aerobic dance, weight training, [*6] stationary bicycling, various aerobic conditioning [**497] machinery and various nutritional programs offered by BOC (the “Physical Activities”). Client acknowledges these Physical Activities involve the inherent risk of physical injuries or other damages, including, but not limited to, heart attacks, muscle strains, pulls or tears, broken bones, shin splints, heat prostration, knee/lower back/foot injuries and any other illness, soreness, or injury however caused, occurring during or after Client’s participation in the Physical Activities. Client further acknowledges that such risks include, but are not limited to, injuries caused by the negligence of an instructor or other person, defective or improperly used equipment, over-exertion of Client, slip and fall by Client, or an unknown health problem of Client. Client agrees to assume all risk and responsibility involved with Client’s participation in the Physical Activities. Client affirms that Client is in good physical condition and does not suffer from any disability that would prevent or limit participation in the Physical Activities. Client acknowledges participation will be physically and mentally challenging, and Client agrees that [*7] it is the responsibility of Client to seek competent medical or other professional advice, regarding any concerns or questions involved with the ability of Client to take part in the Physical Activities. By signing this agreement, Client asserts that Client is capable of participating in the Physical Activities. Client agrees to assume all risk and responsibility for Client’s exceeding her physical limits.

Limitation of Liability & Full Release of BOC: Client, his or her heirs, assigns and next of kin, agree to fully release BOC, its owners, employees, any related entities or authorized agents, including independent contractors from any and all liability, claims and/or litigation or [**498] other actions that Client may have for injuries, disability, or death or other damages of any kind, including but not limited to, direct, special, incidental, indirect, punitive or consequential damages whether arising in tort, contract, breach of warranty or arising out of participation in the Services, including, but not limited to the Physical Activities, even if caused by the negligence or fault of BOC, its owners, employees, any related entities or other authorized agents, including independent contractors. [*8] Client is urged to have this agreement reviewed by an attorney before signing.

(Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment, Exhibit C (July 6, 2009)).

Discussion:

This Court granted the Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment and dismissed the Plaintiff’s Complaint because the agreements that the Plaintiff entered into with the Defendants contained exculpatory clauses that relieved the Defendants from all liability for the injuries suffered by the Plaintiff. The Defendants went to great lengths to comply with Pennsylvania law when they drafted the exculpatory clauses at issue. The language used in these exculpatory clauses mirrored the language of the two exculpatory clauses that were enforced in Kotovsky v. Ski Liberty Operating Corp., 412 Pa. Super. 442, 603 A.2d 663 (1992). 3

3 The plaintiff in Kotovsky was injured while participating in a downhill ski race. He specifically collided with a fencepost along the outside of the race course. The Court in Kotovsky affirmed a trial court order that granted a motion for judgment on the pleadings based on an exculpatory agreement entered into between the parties prior to the competition.

[**499] In Kotovsky the first exculpatory clause provided, in pertinent [*9] part, as follows:

I agree that I am alone responsible for my safety while participating in competitive events and/or training for competitive events and specifically acknowledge that the following persons or entities including the United States Ski Association, the United States Ski Team, the United States Ski Coaches Association, the ski area, the promoters, the sponsors, the organizers, the promoters, the sponsors, the organizers, the promoter clubs, the officials and any agent, representative, officer, director, employee, member or affiliate of any person or entity named above are not responsible for my safety. I specifically RELEASE and DISCHARGE, in advance, those parties from any and all liability whether, known or unknown, even though that liability may arise out of negligence or carelessness on the part of persons or entities mentioned above. I agree to accept all responsibility for the risks, conditions and hazards which may occur whether they now be known or unknown.

Being fully aware of the risks, conditions and hazards of the proposed activity as a competitor, coach or official, I HEREBY AGREE TO WAIVE, RELEASE AND DISCHARGE any and all claims for damages for death, personal [*10] injury or property damage which I may have or which may hereafter accrue to me as a result of my participation in competitive events or training for competitive events, against any person or entity mentioned above whether such injury or damage was foreseeable.

I further agree to forever HOLD HARMLESS and INDEMNIFY all persons and entities identified above, generally or specifically, from any and all liability for death and/ [**500] or personal injury or property damage result[ing] in any way from my participating in competitive events or training for competitive events.

This Acknowledgement of and Assumption of Risk and Release shall be binding upon my heirs and assigns. (Emphasis added)

Kotovsky v. Ski Liberty Operating Corp., 412 Pa. Super. 442, 445, 603 A.2d 663, 664 (1992).

The second exculpatory clause in Kotovsky provided as follows:

If you do not accept fully the conditions below do not compete, officiate, coach or in any other way participate in any event. I, the undersigned, know that alpine and nordic skiing are action sports carrying significant risk of personal injury. Racing, jumping or freestyle competition is even more dangerous. I know that there are natural and man-made obstacles [*11] or hazards, surfaces and environmental conditions, and risks which in combination with my action can cause me very severe or occasionally fatal injury. I agree that I and not the ski area or its staff or American Ski Racing Alliance, Inc. “(ASRA”) or its staff, am responsible for my safety while I participate in, or train for these events.

I HEREBY RELEASE and discharge, on behalf of myself, my heirs, executors, personal representatives and assigns, ASRA, USSA, their affiliates and subsidiaries and their respective directors, officers, agents, employees, successors and assigns or any of them, from any and all actions, causes of action, claims, damages, demands, injuries and liabilities of any nature whatsoever. (including reasonable attorneys fees and interest) arising out of or in any manner [**501] connected with their involvement with ski races organized, promoted or operated by ASRA. (Emphasis in original).

Id.

The Court in Zimmer v. Mitchell, 253 PA. Super. 474, 385 A.2d 437 (1978), was confronted with an exculpatory clause that was contained in a rental agreement for ski equipment. 4 The exculpatory clause in that rental agreement read, in relevant part, as follows, “I furthermore release [*12] Mitchell and Ness from any liability for damage and injury to myself or to any person or property resulting from the use of this equipment, accepting myself the full responsibility for any and all such damage or injury.” Id. at 478, 385 A.2d at 439. The court chose to enforce the agreement despite the fact that the language of the agreement did not release the defendant for liability based on its own negligence. A different result was reached in Brown where the Superior Court invalidated an exculpatory agreement because “The release in question [did] not spell out the intention of the parties with the necessary particularity. The language [did] not set forth in an unambiguous manner that the releaser, in signing the agreement, intend[ed] to absolve the releasee of liability for the releasee’s own negligence.” Brown v. Racquetball Centers. Inc., 369 Pa. Super. 13, 16, 534 A.2d 842, 843 (1987). 5

4 The plaintiff in Zimmer alleged to have been injured when the bindings on the ski equipment that he had rented from the defendant failed to properly release him. The Court in Zimmer affirmed an order that granted summary judgment based on an exculpatory clause contained in a rental agreement.

5 The plaintiff [*13] in Brown was a member of a health club who slipped when exiting the club’s shower facilities. The Court reversed a trial court order that granted summary judgment in favor of the health club based on an exculpatory clause contained in the application form signed by the plaintiff upon joining the health club. The exculpatory clause read, in relevant, part:

I, LeRoy F. Brown, voluntarily enter the Westend Racquet Club…to participate in the athletic, physical and social activities therein. I have inspected the premises and know of the risks and dangers involved in such activities as are conducted therein and that unanticipated and unexpected dangers may arise during such activities. I hereby and do assume all risks of injury to my person and property that may be sustained in connection with the stated and associated activities in and about those premises. (Emphasis added).

In consideration of the permission granted to me to enter the premises and participate in the stated activities, I hereby, for myself, my heirs, administrators and assigns, release, remise and discharge the owners, operators and sponsors of the premises and its activities and equipment and their respective servants, agents, [*14] officers, and all other participants in those activities of and from all claims, demands, actions and causes of action of any sort, for injury sustained to my person and/or property during my presence on the premises and my participation in those activities due to negligence or any other fault.

Id. at 14, 534 A.2d at 842.

[**502] In the case sub judice, the Defendants made every possible effort to draft exculpatory clauses with language that complied with Pennsylvania precedent. The exculpatory clauses drafted by the Defendants are linguistically similar to the exculpatory clauses quoted in Kotovsky, Zimmer and Brown. The Defendants specifically attempted to remedy the problem identified by the Court in Brown by including language that specifically released liability for injuries caused by the Defendants’ own negligence. Unlike the exculpatory agreement in Brown, in the case sub judice, the Plaintiff clearly and unequivocally agreed to release the Defendant, LA Fitness, from any and all claims whether caused “by the active or passive negligence of LA Fitness or otherwise.” (Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment, Membership [**503] Agreement Exhibit B (July 6, 2009)). Under the terms of the Fitness Service Agreement [*15] and Release of Liability, the Plaintiff clearly and unequivocally agreed to release the Defendants from any and all claims “even if caused by the negligence or fault of BOC [Body of Change], its owners, employees, any related entities or other authorized agents, including independent contractors.” (Id. Exhibit C). The Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability also provided that the “[Plaintiff] further acknowledges that such risks included, but are not limited to, injuries caused by the negligence of an instructor.” (Id).

In accordance with Pennsylvania precedent, the exculpatory clauses at issue were also highly visible and clearly noticeable within the Membership Agreement and Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability. Beck-Hummel v. Ski Shawnee, inc., 2006 PA Super 159, 902 A.2d 1266, 1274 (Pa. Super. 2006) (standing for the proposition that [HN1] an exculpatory clause should be conspicuous on the face of a document and espousing a three part test for determining whether a reasonable person should have noticed an exculpatory clause contained in a document as follows: (1) the disclaimer’s placement in the document, (2) the size of the disclaimer’s print, and (3) whether the disclaimer was [*16] highlighted by being printed in all capital letters or in a type style or color different from the remainder of the document). A plain reading of the Membership Agreement and the Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability shows that exculpatory clauses were both written in a larger and different type than the type used in the rest of the contracts in which they appeared. The clauses were both separated and sectioned apart from all other contractual provisions and encased within a box. [**504] The membership Agreement with LA Fitness was entitled “IMPORTANT: RELEASE AND WAIVER OF LIABILITY AND INDEMNITY.” The exculpatory clauses in the Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability contained the titles, “Limitation of Liability & Full Release of BOC” and “Acknowledgement & Assumption of Risk.” Both titles were written in bold and in a larger print size than all other material on the page.

The Plaintiff was unable to cite a single valid reason for this Court to decline to enforce the exculpatory clauses at issue. In her response to the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment and her motions to reconsider, the Plaintiff cited six arguments in an attempt to persuade this Court to allow [*17] her to proceed to trial. These arguments were as follows:

A. Defendants’ failed to plead, in their answer and new matter, the defense of waiver and release with regard to the exculpatory clauses…

B. The exculpatory clauses are contracts of adhesion and, therefore, are unconscionable and unenforceable…

C. It is against public policy to enforce a consumer contract that waives negligence on the part of the vendor and its agents and employees…

D. The terms of the exculpatory clauses are ambiguous and, therefore, unenforceable…

E. There is no privity of contract between Defendant, Hale, and plaintiff.

(Plaintiffs’ Memorandum of Law in Support of their Response to Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (August 5, 2009) (citing the topic headings [**505] to Plaintiff’s five arguments against the entry of summary judgment)).

F. [Plaintiff] respectfully requests that this Honorable Court will enter an order amending the record to state that [the Plaintiff] did not execute or sign any contract with [the] Defendant, L.A. Fitness, LLC, and rescind and reverse the…Order granting summary judgment.

(Plaintiffs’ Motion for Reconsideration Based on New Evidence of the… Order Granting Defendants’ Motion for Summary [*18] Judgment (September 22, 2009) (citing the wherefore clause in said motion)).

A. The Defendants’ specifically pled waiver and release in their answer and new matter filed on September 10, 2009

The Defendants’ filed a late answer with new matter on September 10, 2009. This Court allowed the Defendants’ to pursue the exculpatory agreement as a defense despite the late pleading because the Plaintiff was unable to show that she suffered prejudice as a result of the Defendants’ untimely pleading. In Blumenstock v. Gibson, 2002 PA Super 339, 811 A.2d 1029 (PA. Super. 2002), the court wrote:

[HN2] It is true that under Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1030, release is an affirmative defense that ordinarily must be pled as new matter. Holmes v. Lankenau Hospital, 426 Pa. Super. 452, 627 A.2d 763, 765 (PA. Super. 1993). Under the Rule, if release is not pled as new matter, the right to assert the defense has been waived. Id. Nevertheless, our Rules of Civil Procedure must be liberally construed so that actions are resolved in a just, speedy and inexpensive manner consistent with Rule 126. Id. 765-66. [**506] The rules shall be liberally construed to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action or proceeding [*19] to which they are applicable. The court at every stage of any such action or proceeding may disregard any error or defect of procedure which does not affect the substantial rights of the parties. PA. R.C.P. 126.

Where the rights of the plaintiff have not been prejudiced through the defendant’s failure to plead the defense of release prior to filing a motion for summary judgment, the trial court is not required to strictly enforce Rule 1030. Holmes, 627 A.2d at 766.

Id. at 1039.

In the case sub judice, the Plaintiff could not show prejudice because the Defendants inadvertent oversight had no influence on the litigation. The Defendants mailed a copy of their Answer and New Matter to the Plaintiff on November 13, 2008, but failed to file a copy of the same with the Prothonotary. The Plaintiff did not file a 10-day notice of intent to take a default judgment and a default judgment was never entered. The Defendants stated that they produced the Membership Agreement and the Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability in their response to the Plaintiff’s request for production of documents on February 6, 2009. At deposition, the Defendants specifically questioned the Plaintiff about whether [*20] she signed the Membership Agreement and the Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability, and she admitted that she signed both agreements. The Defendants then advanced their defense based on the exculpatory clauses at the appropriate stage by motioning for summary judgment at the close of discovery.

[**507] B. This Court’s Order granting summary judgment should be affirmed because the exculpatory clauses at issue did not constitute contracts of adhesion

The Plaintiff argued that the Membership Agreement and the Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability were contracts of adhesion and were, therefore, invalid. In support of this argument, she cited the fact that the Defendants openly admitted that the terms of the agreements were non-negotiable. The Plaintiff was presented with standardized boiler plate contracts that contained exculpatory clauses. She was given no opportunity to negotiate the terms of these agreements. If she wanted to exercise at LA Fitness under the supervision of personal trainers provided by Body of Change, she had to sign the agreements as presented.

The Membership Agreement and Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability were not contracts of adhesion [*21] because the Plaintiff had the ability to seek other forms of exercise. Pennington v. Lombardi-Martelli 42 Pa. D. & C.4th 425 (1999) (Affirming a trial court’s grant of summary judgments in favor of a stable owner and stating that the exculpatory agreement entered into prior to taking horse riding lessons was not a contract of adhesion because the plaintiff was free to select another riding school.). The Plaintiff chose to exercise at LA Fitness under the guidance of a personal trainer who worked for Body of Change. The Plaintiff could have exercised independently at home or at a variety of other locations including LA Fitness. The Plaintiff’s ability to choose the form of exercise that she would practice defeats her argument based on a theory of adhesion. For example, the Court enforced an exculpatory agreement against a [**508] Plaintiff who was injured in a down hill ski race in Kotovsky v. Ski Liberty Operating Corp., 412 Pa. Super. 442, 603 A.2d 663 (1992). In Kotovsky, the Court stated that the exculpatory agreement was not one of adhesion because the Plaintiff “was not required to enter the contract, but did so voluntarily in order to participate in the downhill ski race.” Id. at 447, 603 A.2d at 665.

C. [*22] This Court’s Order granting summary judgment should be affirmed because Pennsylvania has a public policy of enforcing exculpatory agreements

Exculpatory agreements in the context of athletic events and fitness club memberships have previously been the subject of litigation in Pennsylvania. However, the Plaintiff is completely unable to cite to precedent to establish that exculpatory clauses in the nature of the type at issue in the case sub judice are invalid based on public policy grounds. Courts located in California and Kansas have enforced exculpatory agreements in personal injury actions where the plaintiff was a member of a fitness club and signed contract that contained an exculpatory clause. Fata v. LA Fitness International LLC., 2008 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 7926 (2008); and Ko v. Bally Total Fitness Corp., 2003 U.S. Dist. Lexis 19378. In both Fata and Ko, there was no mention of public policy being violated by the enforcement of the exculpatory clauses contained in either membership agreement with the health club defendants in those cases. In Zipusch v. LA Workout. Inc., 155 Cal. App. 4th 1281, 66 Cal. Rptr. 3d 704 (2007), the Court chose to not enforce an exculpatory agreement; however, it did not [*23] base its decision on public policy grounds. The Plaintiff failed to support her argument that public policy prevents the enforcement of exculpatory [**509] agreements when the Plaintiff engages in athletic activities at a health club where the Plaintiff is a member.

This Court would like to call attention to the fact that its analysis would have been entirely different if the Plaintiff had been working under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist. In Leidy v. Deseret Enterprises, Inc., 252 Pa. Super. 162, 381 A.2d 164 (1977), the Court reversed a trial court order that granted a motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by the defendant (health spa) based on an exculpatory clause in a membership agreement entered into between the parties. In Leidy, the plaintiff alleged to have been “referred to the spa by her doctor as part of post-operative treatment following surgery on the lumbar area of her spine, but that the treatment she was in fact given was directly contrary to her doctor’s instructions to the spa.” Id. at 166, 381 A.2d at 166. The Court stated, “The public has an interest in assuring that those claiming to be qualified to follow a doctor’s orders are in fact so qualified, and accept responsibility for their actions.” The Court stated, “The public has an interest in assuring that those claiming to be qualified to follow a doctor’s orders are in fact so qualified, and accept responsibility for their actions.” Id. 170, 381 A.2d at 168.

The reasoning and logic of Leidy is inapplicable to the sub judice because no recognized statewide standard of care exists for health clubs like LA Fitness or health club employees like Defendant Hale. The legislature created the Broad of Physical Therapy to establish rules and procedures to regulate physical therapy throughout the state of Pennsylvania. See 63 P.S. § 1302.1. The Physical Therapy Practice Act, 63 P.S. § 1301 et seq., provides conclusive evidence of the public interest in protecting [**510] the health, safety and welfare of those who seek the services of a physical therapist. Therefore, this Court would have to be presented with an extremely unusual fact pattern before it would allow a physical therapist to escape liability based on an exculpatory agreement executed by his or her patient. It would be hard to believe that such an agreement truly regulated private interests. Yet at the same time, services provided by a personal [*25] trainer are substantially similar to the services provided by a physical therapist.

The fact pattern of the case sub judice highlights just one of the problems presented by the lack of legislative oversight of the health club and fitness industry in Pennsylvania. This Court would like to refer this matter on the legislature so that it can establish a system for regulation. The clear affect of this lack of legislative oversight means that national health club chains, like the Defendants, can be sued for negligence based upon a breach of an ordinary standard of care that could vary from county to county. Since an ordinary standard of care is applicable, the Defendants need the protection provided by the exculpatory agreement. Clearly, the establishment of a uniform standard of care is necessary. It would then be possible to establish a statewide standard of care that would subject entities and individuals involved in the fitness industry to liability. Legislative oversight would also bolster any argument that an exculpatory agreement should be invalid based on public policy grounds.

D. The terms of the exculpatory clauses are not ambiguous and are therefore enforceable.

As previously discussed, [*26] Plaintiff clearly and unequivocally agreed to release the Defendants from liability [**511] for personal injury. There was nothing ambiguous about the terms of either exculpatory clause. Both clauses specifically identified the types of personal injuries contemplated by the parties when they entered into the agreement. Under the terms of the Membership Agreement, the Plaintiff released LA Fitness from any risk of injury and agreed that:

Such risk of injury include[d] (but is not limited to): injuries arising from use by Member or others of exercises equipment and machines; injuries arising from participation by Member or others in supervised or unsupervised activities or programs at a Club; injuries and medical disorders arising from exercising at a Club such as heart attacks, strokes, heat stress, sprains, broken bones, and torn muscles and ligaments, among others…

The terms of the Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability, clearly stated that the,

Client acknowledges these Physical Activities involve the inherent risk of physical injuries or other damages, including, but not limited to, heart attacks, muscle strains, pulls or tears, broken bones, shin splints, heat prostration, knee/lower [*27] back/foot injuries and any other illness, soreness, or injury however caused, occurring during or after Client’s participation in the Physical Activities.

The Plaintiff suffered injuries that were specifically encompassed within the description of injuries contemplated in the exculpatory clauses offered by the Defendants. The Plaintiff’s medical records state that she suffered an anteroinferior dislocation of the left shoulder that led to post-traumatic arthritis and contractures. The Plaintiff was a registered nurse at Magee Rehabilitation. [**512] She should have read and comprehended the ramifications of entering into the Membership Agreement and Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability. As a nurse, the Plaintiff should have also understood inherent danger in any exercise routine.

E. This Court’s Order granting summary judgment should be affirmed because privity of contract between the Plaintiff and the Defendant, Dorian Jefferson Hale, is a completely irrelevant issue

There was no dispute as to the fact that the Plaintiff entered into the Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability with Body of Change. 6 This agreement specifically states,

Client, his or her heirs, assigns [*28] and next of kin, agree to fully release BOC [Body of Change], its owners, employees, any related entities or other authorized agents, including independent contractors from any and all liability, claims and/or litigation or other actions that Client may have for injuries?even if caused by the negligence or fault of BOC [Body of Change], its owners, employees, any related entities or other authorized agents, including independent contractors.

6 See § F herein discussing the Plaintiffs motion to reconsider based on new evidence wherein she claims that she never signed the Membership Agreement with LA Fitness.

There was no dispute as to the fact that Defendant, Dorian Jefferson Hale, was an agent of Body of Change. Under the specific terms of the Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability, all agents of Body of Change were released from liability over to the Plaintiff. As with any other contract, the specific terms of this exculpatory [**513] clause should be enforce in accordance with the plain meaning of its language. For example, the Court in Maloney v. Valley Medical Facilities, Inc., 603 Pa. 399, 984 A.2d 478 (Pa. 2009), permitted a plaintiff to maintain an action against an agent of a principal [*29] despite the fact that the plaintiff had released the agent’s principal. In Maloney, the release that the plaintiff entered into with the principal specifically contained a reservation of rights clause that permitted the plaintiff to proceed against the agent. The Court discussed the application of traditional contract principles and the need to effectuate the intent of the parties who enter into contracts.

The case sub judice is factually distinguishable from Maloney; yet, the reasoning and logic used in Maloney clearly favored the entry of summary judgment in favor of Defendant Hale. The exculpatory clause found in the fitness service agreement and release of liability did not contain a reservation of rights clause whereby the Plaintiff retained the right to sue Defendant Hale. To the contrary, the specific language of the exculpatory clause released Defendant Hale from all liability. Based on the reasoning contained in Maloney, this Court placed great emphasis on the specific language of the exculpatory clause and decided to enforce the agreement as to Defendant Hale as well as the other Defendants.

F. Whether the Plaintiff signed the Membership Agreement with the Defendant, LA Fitness, [*30] is not relevant to the question of whether this Court’s Order granting summary judgment should be affirmed

After this Court granted the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the Plaintiff filed a motion to reconsider [**514] based on new evidence. She argued that this Court should vacate its Order granting summary judgment in favor of the Defendant, LA Fitness, because she did not sign the Membership Agreement that contained the exculpatory clause that it offered as an affirmative defense. A brief review of the pleadings and procedural history of this case illustrates the irrelevant and meritless nature of this issue.

Originally the Plaintiff filed a response to the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment that contained an affidavit wherein she admitted that she signed both the Membership Agreement and the Fitness Service Agreement and. Release of Liability. After this Court granted the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration that contained a second affidavit that contradicted her pervious affidavit. In her second affidavit, she averred that she did not sign the Membership Agreement.

The inconsistencies in the Plaintiff’s case could have created [*31] a legal issue that would have required judicial attention. However, the Plaintiff did not attempt to establish a direct claim of liability against LA Fitness. The Plaintiff did not bring an independent cause of action against LA Fitness on a theory like negligent hiring or supervision. The Plaintiffs claim against LA Fitness was based agency or vicarious liability for the actions or omissions of Defendant Hale. LA Fitness could only be held liable if Defendant Hale was held liable. The action against Defendant Hale was barred based on the exculpatory clauses in the Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability. The Plaintiff openly admitted that she signed [**515] Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability which states:

Client, his or her heirs, assigns and next of kin, agree to fully release BOC [Body of Change], its owners, employees, any related entities or other authorized agents, including independent contractors from any and all liability, claims and/or litigation or other actions that Client may have for injuries…even if caused by the negligence or fault of BOC [Body of Change], its owners, employees, any related entities or other authorized agents, including independent [*32] contractors.

In reality, the Plaintiff’s signature on the Membership Agreement was really a mere technicality. A plain reading of both affidavits illustrates that the Plaintiff was aware that she had entered into an agreement that had been reduced to writing when she joined L A Fitness. She then proceeded to use the facilities provided by L A Fitness on multiple occasions prior to her accident. She should have read the Membership Agreement and her use of the facility was akin to accepting the terms of the Membership Agreement.

Conclusion:

The Defendants went to great lengths to draft exculpatory clauses that would comply with Pennsylvania law; therefore, this Court was required to enforce the exculpatory clauses contained in the Membership Agreement and Fitness Service Agreement and Release of Liability.

BY THE COURT

/s/ John M. Younge

Judge John M. Younge

WordPress Tags: Taylor,International,Phila,LEXIS,Andrew,Body,Change,David,White,Dorian,Jefferson,Hale,COMMON,PLEAS,COURT,PHILADELPHIA,PENNSYLVANIA,CIVIL,TRIAL,DIVISION,August,CASE,SUMMARY,JUDGES,Judge,John,Younge,OPINION,Plaintiffs,Order,judgment,Defendants,Plaintiff,remainder,action,consortium,Facts,Procedure,injury,member,client,June,Huntingdon,Valley,location,Defendant,trainers,trainer,agent,Complaint,negligence,agency,theory,discovery,clauses,Membership,Agreement,Service,Release,discussion,reconsideration,history,clause,IMPORTANT,WAIVER,facilities,equipment,premises,purpose,observation,participation,directors,officers,employees,agents,heirs,account,person,death,extent,cost,presence,impairment,health,physician,injuries,Club,muscles,ligaments,State,representations,statements,inducement,Motion,Exhibit,Acknowledgement,Assumption,Risk,Limitation,Full,Services,machinery,Physical,Activities,muscle,prostration,knee,foot,instructor,exertion,advice,owners,entities,contractors,litigation,tort,attorney,agreements,lengths,Kotovsky,Corp,Super,fencepost,competition,events,States,Association,Team,Coaches,area,promoters,organizers,promoter,officials,officer,director,employee,DISCHARGE,competitor,HEREBY,AGREE,WAIVE,HOLD,INDEMNIFY,Emphasis,event,obstacles,combination,American,Alliance,ASRA,executors,USSA,subsidiaries,successors,liabilities,attorneys,manner,involvement,Zimmer,Mitchell,rental,fact,Brown,Superior,intention,Racquetball,Centers,bindings,LeRoy,Westend,Racquet,dangers,connection,permission,administrators,operators,servants,participants,effort,precedent,Under,accordance,Beck,Hummel,Shawnee,proposition,disclaimer,placement,size,capital,Both,response,arguments,adhesion,policy,consumer,vendor,Memorandum,Support,topic,headings,Honorable,Evidence,September,Blumenstock,Gibson,Rule,Holmes,Lankenau,Hospital,Rules,determination,error,Where,failure,Answer,Matter,November,Prothonotary,production,February,argument,boiler,supervision,Pennington,Lombardi,Martelli,judgments,owner,horse,lessons,guidance,locations,example,hill,Exculpatory,context,memberships,Courts,California,Kansas,Fata,Unpub,Total,Dist,enforcement,Zipusch,Workout,Rptr,decision,attention,analysis,therapist,Leidy,Deseret,Enterprises,treatment,surgery,spine,instructions,logic,legislature,Broad,Therapy,procedures,Practice,welfare,industry,system,regulation,protection,establishment,individuals,Legislative,description,dislocation,arthritis,Magee,Rehabilitation,ramifications,danger,Maloney,Medical,Whether,affidavit,inconsistencies,omissions,signature,affidavits,accident,Conclusion,upon,aerobic,shin,pleadings,releasee,judice,unenforceable,statewide


Wife signed release, husband signed addendum to release and was held to the exculpatory clause in the release

Language of addendum was sufficient to bind husband to contract – but a risky legal move.

Hembree v. Johnson et al., 224 Ga. App. 680; 482 S.E.2d 407; 1997 Ga. App. LEXIS 182; 97 Fulton County D. Rep. 622

Plaintiff: Terrell L. Hembree

Defendant: Gordon Johnson and James Haddle d/b/a Douglasville Health & Athletic Club

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: for the defendants

The wife of the plaintiff joined the defendant Douglasville Health & Athletic Club. When she joined she signed the Membership Agreement that was referenced by an Agreement Number (13217). When she completed the agreement. She listed her husband, the plaintiff as a family member. The membership agreement on the front referred to rules and conditions which the signor agreed to that were listed on the back. The rules and conditions on the back included exculpatory (release) language.

Several months after his wife joined, the plaintiff joined the health club. He signed a Membership Addendum which stated, “I herewith modify my original membership agreement No. 13217 dated 4-14-92 as stated herein.”

The plaintiff allegedly slipped and fell while playing racquet ball injuring his knee. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment based upon the release signed by the spouse of the plaintiff.

Summary of the case

The plaintiff argued the dismissal of his case was improper because there was the existence of a material issue of a disputed fact. That fact was whether he assented to the release when he joined the defendant club.

Under Georgia law the construction of a written contract is a question of law, which can be decided by a court unless an ambiguity exists in the agreement.

Simply put, when the plaintiff signed the Membership Addendum, he assented to all the terms contained in the original agreement signed by his wife.

Even better the court stated, “It was incumbent upon Hembree [plaintiff] to read the contract and apprise himself of the terms to which he assented.”

Another issue raised by the plaintiff was the release violated the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act (O.C.G.A. § 10-1-393.2). The plaintiff failed to preserve the issue for appeal; however, the court did review the issue.

A health club membership does not violate public policy, or violate the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act.

A contracting party may waive or renounce that which the law has established in his favor, provided doing so does not injure others or affect the public interest. O.C.G.A. § 1-3-7. It is well settled that public policy does not prohibit the inclusion of an exculpatory clause, like the one at issue here, in a health club membership.

So Now What?

Normally, a court looks at a release or waiver as a personal contract with a third party. No one can sign away the right to sue of another, unless they are legally allowed to do so through a Power of Attorney or as a guardian.

In this case, the court looked at the relationship between the person who signed the original agreement and the person signing the addendum. The addendum specifically referred to the original agreement by a number.

Do not ever rely on this case to have a non-signor on a release held to a release. Always get a signature. In this case, it would have only taken a few more minutes to hand the plaintiff a release and have him read and sign the document.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FaceBook, Twitter or LinkedIn

Copyright 2013 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

Mobile Site: http://m.recreation-law.com

By Recreation Law       Rec-law@recreation-law.com              James H. Moss               #Authorrank

<rel=”author” link=” https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/112453188060350225356/” />

#RecreationLaw, #@RecreationLaw, #Cycling.Law #Fitness.Law, #Ski.Law, #Outside.Law, #Recreation.Law, #Recreation-Law.com, #Outdoor Law, #Recreation Law, #Outdoor Recreation Law, #Adventure Travel Law, #law, #Travel Law, #Jim Moss, #James H. Moss, #Attorney at Law, #Tourism, #Adventure Tourism, #Rec-Law, #Rec-Law Blog, #Recreation Law, #Recreation Law Blog, #Risk Management, #Human Powered, #Human Powered Recreation,# Cycling Law, #Bicycling Law, #Fitness Law, #Recreation-Law.com, #Backpacking, #Hiking, #Mountaineering, #Ice Climbing, #Rock Climbing, #Ropes Course, #Challenge Course, #Summer Camp, #Camps, #Youth Camps, #Skiing, #Ski Areas, #Negligence, #Snowboarding, #RecreationLaw, #@RecreationLaw, #Cycling.Law #Fitness.Law, #SkiLaw, #Outside.Law, #Recreation.Law, #RecreationLaw.com, #OutdoorLaw, #RecreationLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #AdventureTravelLaw, #Law, #TravelLaw, #JimMoss, #JamesHMoss, #AttorneyatLaw, #Tourism, #AdventureTourism, #RecLaw, #RecLawBlog, #RecreationLawBlog, #RiskManagement, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation,# CyclingLaw, #BicyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #RecreationLaw.com, #Backpacking, #Hiking, #Mountaineering, #IceClimbing, #RockClimbing, #RopesCourse, #ChallengeCourse, #SummerCamp, #Camps, #YouthCamps, #Skiing, #Ski Areas, #Negligence, #Snowboarding, sport and recreation laws, ski law, cycling law, Colorado law, law for recreation and sport managers, bicycling and the law, cycling and the law, ski helmet law, skiers code, skiing accidents, Recreation Lawyer, Ski Lawyer, Paddlesports Lawyer, Cycling Lawyer, Recreational Lawyer, Fitness Lawyer, Rec Lawyer, Challenge Course Lawyer, Ropes Course Lawyer, Zip Line Lawyer, Rock Climbing Lawyer, Adventure Travel Lawyer, Outside Lawyer, Recreation Lawyer, Ski Lawyer, Paddlesports Lawyer, Cycling Lawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #FitnessLawyer, #RecLawyer, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #RopesCourseLawyer, #ZipLineLawyer, #RockClimbingLawyer, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #OutsideLawyer, Gordon Johnson, James Haddle d/b/a Douglasville Health & Athletic Club, Douglasville Health & Athletic Club, Health Club, Gym, Fitness Club, Release, Waiver, Addendum, Public Policy,

WordPress Tags: Wife,husband,addendum,clause,Language,Hembree,Johnson,LEXIS,Fulton,Plaintiff,Terrell,Defendant,Gordon,James,Haddle,Douglasville,Health,Athletic,Club,Claims,negligence,Defenses,Release,defendants,Membership,Agreement,Number,member,Several,racquet,ball,knee,judgment,spouse,Summary,dismissal,existence,fact,Under,Georgia,construction,Another,Fair,Practices,policy,inclusion,waiver,Power,Attorney,guardian,relationship,person,signature,Leave,FaceBook,Twitter,LinkedIn,Recreation,Edit,Email,Google,RecreationLaw,Page,Outdoor,Adventure,Travel,Blog,Mobile,Site,Moss,Authorrank,author,Outside,Tourism,Risk,Management,Human,Rock,Ropes,Course,Challenge,Summer,Camp,Camps,Youth,Areas,SkiLaw,OutdoorLaw,OutdoorRecreationLaw,AdventureTravelLaw,TravelLaw,JimMoss,JamesHMoss,AttorneyatLaw,AdventureTourism,RecLaw,RecLawBlog,RecreationLawBlog,RiskManagement,HumanPoweredRecreation,CyclingLaw,BicyclingLaw,FitnessLaw,RopesCourse,ChallengeCourse,SummerCamp,YouthCamps,Colorado,managers,helmet,accidents,Lawyer,Paddlesports,Recreational,Line,RecreationalLawyer,FitnessLawyer,RecLawyer,ChallengeCourseLawyer,RopesCourseLawyer,ZipLineLawyer,RockClimbingLawyer,AdventureTravelLawyer,OutsideLawyer,Public,exculpatory,signor,upon


Hembree v. Johnson et al., 224 Ga. App. 680; 482 S.E.2d 407; 1997 Ga. App. LEXIS 182; 97 Fulton County D. Rep. 622

Hembree v. Johnson et al., 224 Ga. App. 680; 482 S.E.2d 407; 1997 Ga. App. LEXIS 182; 97 Fulton County D. Rep. 622

Hembree v. Johnson et al.

A97A0034.

COURT OF APPEALS OF GEORGIA

224 Ga. App. 680; 482 S.E.2d 407; 1997 Ga. App. LEXIS 182; 97 Fulton County D. Rep. 622

February 14, 1997, Decided

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1] Slip and fall. Douglas Superior Court. Before Judge James.

DISPOSITION: Judgment affirmed.

COUNSEL: Akin & Tate, S. Lester Tate III, for appellant.

Chambers, Mabry, McClelland & Brooks, Rex D. Smith, Ian R. Rapaport, for appellees.

JUDGES: Judge Harold R. Banke. Pope, P. J., and Johnson, J., concur.

OPINION BY: Harold R. Banke

OPINION

[*680] [**408] Judge Harold R. Banke.

Terrell L. Hembree sued Gordon Johnson and James Haddle d/b/a Douglasville Health & Athletic Club (collectively “Johnson”) to recover damages relating to a knee injury allegedly sustained in a slip and fall on a racquetball court. Hembree appeals the trial court’s adverse summary judgment ruling.

Johnson moved for summary judgment relying primarily on exculpatory language contained in a membership agreement. The record shows that Melissa Hembree completed and signed joint Membership Agreement No. 13217 on which she listed Terrell Hembree, her husband, as a family member. The first section in the contract provides, “I agree to use the Health and Athletic Club in accordance with the Rules and Conditions printed on the reverse side.” Melissa Hembree signed the Rules and Conditions document which contains certain exculpatory provisions requiring a member [***2] to: (1) assume any risk occasioned by the use of the facilities, and (2) forever release and discharge the corporate owner of the club, and any affiliated companies and/or its agents and employees from liability for claims arising out of the use of the facilities. Several months after the joint membership expired, Terrell Hembree signed a Membership Addendum to obtain an individual membership. The Membership Addendum states, “I herewith modify my original membership agreement No. 13217 dated 4-14-92 as stated herein.” The only pertinent change in the addendum altered [*681] the joint membership to an individual one. During the time Hembree had an individual membership, he allegedly slipped and fell. Held:

1. We reject Hembree’s contention that summary judgment was precluded by the existence of a material issue of disputed fact as to whether he assented to the waiver. [HN1] The construction of a written contract is a question of law for the trial court unless after the court applies the applicable rules of construction, ambiguity remains. O.C.G.A. § 13-2-1; Binswanger Glass Co. v. Beers Constr. Co., 141 Ga. App. 715, 716 (1) (234 S.E.2d 363) (1977). This is not such a situation. When Hembree [***3] signed the Membership Addendum, he specifically assented to all the terms contained in Membership Agreement No. 13217, which was incorporated by reference in the Membership Addendum. [HN2] Incorporation by reference is generally effective to accomplish its intended purpose where, as here, the reference has a reasonably clear and ascertainable meaning. Binswanger, 141 Ga. App. at 717 (2). Hembree was bound by the terms and conditions of the contract that he signed including the Rules and Conditions giving effect to the waiver. It was incumbent upon Hembree to read the contract and apprise himself of the terms to which he assented. Conklin v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 240 Ga. 58, 59 (239 S.E.2d 381) (1977); Lovelace v. Figure Salon, 179 Ga. App. 51, 53 (1) (345 S.E.2d 139) (1986). Having shown the absence of any genuine issue of material fact, Johnson was entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. O.C.G.A. § 9-11-56 (c).

2. Hembree enumerates as errors an alleged violation of the Fair Business Practices Act (O.C.G.A. § 10-1-393.2) and an assertion that Johnson and Haddle are not [**409] agents and employees of the corporation as contemplated by the waiver language. Although Hembree [***4] claims that he raised these two issues during oral argument, he failed to provide a transcript of the summary judgment hearing. Hembree, as [HN3] the party alleging error, has the burden to show it affirmatively by the record. North Fulton Feed v. Purina Mills, 221 Ga. App. 576, 577 (472 S.E.2d 122) (1996). [HN4] Because Hembree failed to show that either of these issues was raised and argued below, they cannot be raised now for the first time. Auerbach v. First Nat. Bank of Atlanta, 147 Ga. App. 288, 290 (1) (B) (248 S.E.2d 551) (1978).

3. Notwithstanding Hembree’s argument to the contrary, we find no violation of public policy in the exculpatory clause at issue. [HN5] A contracting party may waive or renounce that which the law has established in his favor, provided doing so does not injure others or affect the public interest. O.C.G.A. § 1-3-7. It is well settled that public policy does not prohibit the inclusion of an exculpatory clause, like the one at issue here, in a health club membership. Day v. Fantastic Fitness, 190 Ga. App. 46 (1) (378 S.E.2d 166) (1989); My Fair Lady of Ga. v. Harris, 185 Ga. App. 459 (364 S.E.2d 580) (1987); Lovelace, 179 Ga. [*682] App. at 52 (1).

Judgment [***5] affirmed. Pope, P. J., and Johnson, J., concur.

WordPress Tags: Hembree,Johnson,LEXIS,Fulton,COURT,APPEALS,GEORGIA,February,PRIOR,HISTORY,Slip,Douglas,Superior,Judge,James,DISPOSITION,Judgment,COUNSEL,Akin,Tate,Lester,appellant,Chambers,Mabry,McClelland,Brooks,Smith,Rapaport,JUDGES,Harold,Banke,Pope,OPINION,Terrell,Gordon,Haddle,Douglasville,Health,Athletic,Club,knee,injury,membership,agreement,Melissa,husband,member,accordance,Rules,Conditions,facilities,owner,agents,employees,Several,Addendum,Held,contention,existence,fact,waiver,construction,Binswanger,Glass,Beers,Constr,situation,reference,Incorporation,purpose,Conklin,Mutual,Lovelace,Figure,Salon,absence,errors,violation,Fair,Practices,assertion,corporation,Although,argument,transcript,error,North,Purina,Mills,Auerbach,Bank,Atlanta,policy,clause,inclusion,Fantastic,Lady,Harris,exculpatory


News Week of June 10, 2013

Update on what is happening outside with a legal and risk management slant

 

Legal

 

Inflatable climbing wall case injury from a party thrown by a health club stretched the release

 

 

It took an appeal of the issues to win, the trial court held for the plaintiff.

 

Citation: Vinson v. Paramount Pictures Corporation et al., 2013 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 3380

 

See http://rec-law.us/13xSnSP

 

 

 

If you don’t want hurt by a tree, don’t camp under one

 

This is a follow up on a lawsuit filed by a man injured when a tree fell on him at a #BSA camp. It is said that he suffered such traumatic injuries, however the facts still remain. You cannot see the rot, death or decay of trees as they stand. If you do not want to be hit by a tree if it falls, don’t camp under any trees.

 

See http://rec-law.us/195vybc

 

 

 

If a tree falls in the woods, is there someone around to start a lawsuit?

 

English: Kalmiopsis Wilderness in the Rogue Ri...

English: Kalmiopsis Wilderness in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest of southwest Oregon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

It’s the woods, where do you think, you are?

 

Another person has filed a lawsuit claiming injuries from a tree that fell on them. In this case, the person was driving through the Rogue River National Forest when a tree fell and hit his truck.

 

See http://rec-law.us/11d80fu

 

 

 

Strava wins, cyclists still dead

 

Strava wins lawsuit claim it was responsible for cyclist death. Claim was strava induced cyclists to ride recklessly which killed him.

 

Hopefully, Strava can receive sanctions for defending against this stupid suit.

 

See http://rec-law.us/11d7TAr

 

 

 

2 different Hot Air Balloon crashes injured 6 people in one day in Jefferson and Boulder

 

English: The Saturday morning launch, overlook...

English: The Saturday morning launch, overlooking Prospect Lake, in downtown Colorado Springs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

counties, Colorado.

 

See http://rec-law.us/12clLA1

 

 

 

1 #Scout Leader dead, 5 other youth and adults with heat related injuries.

 

See http://rec-law.us/11pdF0K

 

 

 

Paddlesports

 

Everyone needs to read this. This describes what actually occurs when someone is drowning. It is NOT what you have seen on TV and in movies. Read and memorize this.

 

See http://rec-law.us/15TyeYj

 

 

 

Lawsuit filed over rafting death. Allegations are supposedly “misrepresented the danger of the rafting and navigated through Seidel Suck Hole and Twin Falls carelessly.”

 

See http://rec-law.us/11kWcGV

 

 

 

Cycling

 

Park your bike.

 

Here are 6 solutions to parking bikes. When cycling is a real mode of transportation, solutions can become real, elegant, part of the cityscape and in a few cases beautiful.

 

See http://rec-law.us/1a4Bm6v

 

 

 

Good luck and great riding!

 

10 @Scouts and 2 leaders are cycling from coast to coast. Every couple of years this @BSA unit tackles this trip to raise money for the North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

 

You can follow the @Scouts through their website: http://www.lucky13biketrip.com/

 

See http://blog.scoutingmagazine.org/2013/06/10/lucky13/

 

 

 

Moab is going to have a new 3 day stage mountain bike race this October. Called Moab Rocks, the race

 

moab-60

moab-60 (Photo credit: AndrewSBishop)

 

will average 30 miles a day with 3-5000 feet of climbing each day.

 

See http://rec-law.us/14pULfs

 

 

 

15 seconds including a crash

 

15 second video of a mountain bike crash. Read the story below it adds to the pain and fun.

 

See http://rec-law.us/14BVJ4Y

 

 

 

A new The Spokesmen.com podcast is out. Bunching and Chafeeing with @carltonreid @RecreationLaw @bikehugger @Rich_Kelly @DonnaTocci @neilroad and the fearless leader @Fredcast

 

See http://bit.ly/eO5bA9

 

 

 

#Tour of Utah scores a major coup with the tour going through several National Parks. The tour is going through Cedar Breaks National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This will be a great ride both for riders and spectators.

 

See http://rec-law.us/102m1RP

 

 

 

Peregrine Falcon chases a mountain biker. #Bikehugger always finds great stories.

 

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

See http://rec-law.us/102l7Vo

 

 

 

Challenge Courses/Zip Lines

 

Let’s see when we get married let’s….

 

Zip line and wedding, yes recipe for online video disaster

 

See http://rec-law.us/1bzJl9q

 

 

 

College course in movie.

 

The Georgia Tech Leadership Challenge Course is in the background of the new film Internship.

 

See http://rec-law.us/14BVXsM

 

 

 

Mountaineering/Climbing

 

#Yosemite’s El Capitan has been mapped……geologically.

 

See http://rec-law.us/13CUinG

 

 

 

Environment

 

Those pretty things that amazed us as kids are disappearing

 

BUTTERFLIES OF FLORIDA

BUTTERFLIES OF FLORIDA (Photo credit: cuatrok77)

 

 

2 #butterflies are now considered extinct in Southern Florida. The Zestos and rockland grass skippers are gone.

 

See http://rec-law.us/13UhvSE

 

 

 

Beautiful “full size” photos of #whales.

 

See http://rec-law.us/169b68q

 

 

 

First Aid/Wilderness Medicine

 

Rare but still possible, what to do if you are bit by a venomous snake.

 

This site is from a friend of mine, an expert on venomous snake bites. Forget everything from prior to 2000 and anything you ever saw on TV and read this.  Thanks @Keith

 

See http://rec-law.us/17HmM5A

 

 

 

Outdoor Life

 

Great video of how storm cells develop.

 

See http://rec-law.us/14TmeTD

 

 

 

The FDA issued new rules for sunscreen labeling this year. #TheAdventurePost has a great article on understanding the rules.

 

See http://rec-law.us/15Tzg6L

 

 

 

What do you think? Leave a comment.

 

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FB, Twitter or LinkedIn

 

Copyright 2013 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

 

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

 

Google+: +Recreation

 

Twitter: RecreationLaw

 

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

 

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

 

Blog:www.recreation-law.com

 

Mobile Site: http://m.recreation-law.com

 

By Recreation Law    Rec-law@recreation-law.com      James H. Moss         #Authorrank

 

<rel=”author” link=” https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/112453188060350225356/” />

 

 

 

#RecreationLaw, #@RecreationLaw, #Cycling.Law #Fitness.Law, #Ski.Law, #Outside.Law, #Recreation.Law, #Recreation-Law.com, #Outdoor Law, #Recreation Law, #Outdoor Recreation Law, #Adventure Travel Law, #law, #Travel Law, #Jim Moss, #James H. Moss, #Attorney at Law, #Tourism, #Adventure Tourism, #Rec-Law, #Rec-Law Blog, #Recreation Law, #Recreation Law Blog, #Risk Management, #Human Powered, #Human Powered Recreation,# Cycling Law, #Bicycling Law, #Fitness Law, #Recreation-Law.com, #Backpacking, #Hiking, #Mountaineering, #Ice Climbing, #Rock Climbing, #Ropes Course, #Challenge Course, #Summer Camp, #Camps, #Youth Camps, #Skiing, #Ski Areas, #Negligence, #Snowboarding, #RecreationLaw, #@RecreationLaw, #Cycling.Law #Fitness.Law, #SkiLaw, #Outside.Law, #Recreation.Law, #RecreationLaw.com, #OutdoorLaw, #RecreationLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #AdventureTravelLaw, #Law, #TravelLaw, #JimMoss, #JamesHMoss, #AttorneyatLaw, #Tourism, #AdventureTourism, #RecLaw, #RecLawBlog, #RecreationLawBlog, #RiskManagement, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation,# CyclingLaw, #BicyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #RecreationLaw.com, #Backpacking, #Hiking, #Mountaineering, #IceClimbing, #RockClimbing, #RopesCourse, #ChallengeCourse, #SummerCamp, #Camps, #YouthCamps, #Skiing, #Ski Areas, #Negligence, #Snowboarding, sport and recreation laws, ski law, cycling law, Colorado law, law for recreation and sport managers, bicycling and the law, cycling and the law, ski helmet law, skiers code, skiing accidents, Recreation Lawyer, Ski Lawyer, Paddlesports Lawyer, Cycling Lawyer, Recreational Lawyer, Fitness Lawyer, Rec Lawyer, Challenge Course Lawyer, Ropes Course Lawyer, Zip Line Lawyer, Rock Climbing Lawyer, Adventure Travel Lawyer, Outside Lawyer, Recreation Lawyer, Ski Lawyer, Paddlesports Lawyer, Cycling Lawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #FitnessLawyer, #RecLawyer, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #RopesCourseLawyer, #ZipLineLawyer, #RockClimbingLawyer, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #OutsideLawyer, News, Update,

 

WordPress Tags: News,Week,June,Update,management,Legal,Inflatable,injury,health,plaintiff,Citation,Vinson,Paramount,Pictures,Corporation,Unpub,LEXIS,tree,lawsuit,injuries,death,trees,woods,Another,person,Rogue,River,National,Forest,truck,Strava,Claim,Balloon,Jefferson,Boulder,counties,Colorado,Scout,Leader,youth,adults,Paddlesports,movies,Read,Allegations,danger,Seidel,Suck,Hole,Twin,Falls,Park,bike,Here,solutions,bikes,mode,transportation,luck,Scouts,leaders,unit,money,North,Carolina,Lineberger,Comprehensive,Cancer,Center,Moab,mountain,October,Rocks,feet,Spokesmen,RecreationLaw,DonnaTocci,Fredcast,Tour,Utah,coup,Parks,Cedar,Breaks,Monument,Bryce,Canyon,Grand,Staircase,Escalante,riders,spectators,Peregrine,Falcon,biker,Bikehugger,Challenge,Courses,Lines,recipe,disaster,College,movie,Georgia,Tech,Leadership,Course,Internship,Yosemite,Capitan,Environment,Headline,butterflies,Southern,Florida,Zestos,skippers,Beautiful,size,photos,whales,Medicine,Rare,friend,Forget,Thanks,Keith,Outdoor,Life,Great,cells,TheAdventurePost,article,Leave,Twitter,LinkedIn,Recreation,Edit,Email,Google,Facebook,Page,Adventure,Travel,Blog,Mobile,Site,James,Moss,Authorrank,author,Outside,Attorney,Tourism,Risk,Human,Rock,Ropes,Summer,Camp,Camps,Areas,Negligence,SkiLaw,OutdoorLaw,OutdoorRecreationLaw,AdventureTravelLaw,TravelLaw,JimMoss,JamesHMoss,AttorneyatLaw,AdventureTourism,RecLaw,RecLawBlog,RecreationLawBlog,RiskManagement,HumanPoweredRecreation,CyclingLaw,BicyclingLaw,FitnessLaw,RopesCourse,ChallengeCourse,SummerCamp,YouthCamps,managers,helmet,accidents,Lawyer,Recreational,Line,RecreationalLawyer,FitnessLawyer,RecLawyer,ChallengeCourseLawyer,RopesCourseLawyer,ZipLineLawyer,RockClimbingLawyer,AdventureTravelLawyer,OutsideLawyer,cyclists

 

 


Inflatable climbing wall case injury from a party thrown by a health club stretched the release

It took an appeal of the issues to win, the trial court held for the plaintiff.

Citation: Vinson v. Paramount Pictures Corporation et al., 2013 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 3380

Plaintiff: Robert Vinson

Defendant: Paramount Pictures Corporation et al.,

Plaintiff Claims: (1) the trial court erred in denying appellants’ motion for nonsuit because a release and waiver signed by Vinson precluded a finding of liability; (2) the trial court erred in finding the primary assumption of the risk doctrine did not apply, and its failure to instruct the jury on the relevant duty owed by appellants was prejudicial; and (3) the trial court abused its discretion by granting a partial new trial on the limited issue of damages.

Defendant Defenses: Release

Holding: Case dismissed based on the release

The case arises from a fall off an inflatable climbing wall at a party. The party was hosted by a health club. The plaintiff had joined a health club or employee club and when he signed a release. It is not clear from the case what the purpose of the club was, but it seems to be a fitness club.

As part of the function of the club, the club hosted a party or event. The party had numerous amusements, including a climbing wall which was operated by a third party. The two individuals operating/belaying the wall claimed they had received an hour’s lesson in how to operate the wall, including how to belay climbers and had not seen the instructions on how to operate the inflatable wall.

The plaintiff argued no one gave him any instructions on how to put on the harness or how to climb on the wall.

While being lowered the plaintiff claimed he fell from the top of the wall landed on the inflatable apron and then bounced onto the concrete. The operators testified the plaintiff was bouncing on the wall and fell when he was 50 to 70% of the way down and never hit the concrete.

The plaintiff sued for his injuries. The trial court threw out the release and a jury awarded the plaintiff $70,000. The plaintiff and defendant appealed.

Summary of the case

The plaintiff appealed the jury trial arguing he was not awarded enough money. The defendant appealed arguing the release should have stopped the suit. The court looked at the release and finding the release was valid did not look at the plaintiff’s appellate arguments.

The court looked at negligence law in California and found generally; persons have a duty to use due care to avoid injuring others, and they can be liable if they do breach the duty causing injury.

A release under California law must be “must be clear, unambiguous, and explicit in expressing the intent of the subscribing parties.” The defining legal issue in determining if a release was valid was:

…whether the particular risk of injury [plaintiff] suffered is inherent in the recreational activity to which the Release applies, but simply the scope of the Release.

The court had to piece together the language in the release; however, the court could find the scope of the release covered “events” of the club, which included the climbing wall and therefore, the release was valid and stopped the claims of the plaintiff.

So Now What?

First, this is another case where a release for one purpose was stretched to cover another. Luckily, it worked. Probably, the event or the climbing wall should have had its own release. The risks found in a gym are different than the risks found at a party, unless the gym had a climbing wall. Even if there was a climbing wall, the release for a gym is not written for an event.

Second, the obvious issues of how the inflatable climbing wall was operated should raise red flags. If you hire a third party to come to your event and run an activity with greater than normal risks, simple falls, at a party, then look into how the risk will be run and maybe the training and/or experience of the people operating the event or amusement.

Third, based upon the wide disparity opinions on what happened, there was no post-accident follow up. No one collected any witness statements, took pictures, or attempted to determine what happened. Granted the plaintiff’s version of events will always differ from the defendants. But one side or the other can always be bolstered by a little paperwork.

Taking care of the injured plaintiff is always the first priority. However, normally there is someone who could have collected statements and taken pictures.

Fourth and Last, the statement by the court “whether the particular risk of injury suffered is inherent in the recreational activity to which the Release applies, but simply the scope of the Release” is great news and at the same time an excuse for using poor releases. It is hard to describe the mental and emotional toll of a trial and an appeal.

However, I can describe the cost. You will have weeks away from your work for both, you and employees. Essentially, a trial will require you to hire someone to replace you part-time and at least another employee full-time to employee to replace others.

It isn’t worth it. Get a well-written release for your business, company or activity.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FaceBook, Twitter or LinkedIn

Copyright 2013 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

Mobile Site: http://m.recreation-law.com

By Recreation Law       Rec-law@recreation-law.com              James H. Moss               #Authorrank

<rel=”author” link=” https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/112453188060350225356/” />

#RecreationLaw, #@RecreationLaw, #Cycling.Law #Fitness.Law, #Ski.Law, #Outside.Law, #Recreation.Law, #Recreation-Law.com, #Outdoor Law, #Recreation Law, #Outdoor Recreation Law, #Adventure Travel Law, #law, #Travel Law, #Jim Moss, #James H. Moss, #Attorney at Law, #Tourism, #Adventure Tourism, #Rec-Law, #Rec-Law Blog, #Recreation Law, #Recreation Law Blog, #Risk Management, #Human Powered, #Human Powered Recreation,# Cycling Law, #Bicycling Law, #Fitness Law, #Recreation-Law.com, #Backpacking, #Hiking, #Mountaineering, #Ice Climbing, #Rock Climbing, #Ropes Course, #Challenge Course, #Summer Camp, #Camps, #Youth Camps, #Skiing, #Ski Areas, #Negligence, #Snowboarding, #RecreationLaw, #@RecreationLaw, #Cycling.Law #Fitness.Law, #SkiLaw, #Outside.Law, #Recreation.Law, #RecreationLaw.com, #OutdoorLaw, #RecreationLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #AdventureTravelLaw, #Law, #TravelLaw, #JimMoss, #JamesHMoss, #AttorneyatLaw, #Tourism, #AdventureTourism, #RecLaw, #RecLawBlog, #RecreationLawBlog, #RiskManagement, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation,# CyclingLaw, #BicyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #RecreationLaw.com, #Backpacking, #Hiking, #Mountaineering, #IceClimbing, #RockClimbing, #RopesCourse, #ChallengeCourse, #SummerCamp, #Camps, #YouthCamps, #Skiing, #Ski Areas, #Negligence, #Snowboarding, sport and recreation laws, ski law, cycling law, Colorado law, law for recreation and sport managers, bicycling and the law, cycling and the law, ski helmet law, skiers code, skiing accidents, Recreation Lawyer, Ski Lawyer, Paddlesports Lawyer, Cycling Lawyer, Recreational Lawyer, Fitness Lawyer, Rec Lawyer, Challenge Course Lawyer, Ropes Course Lawyer, Zip Line Lawyer, Rock Climbing Lawyer, Adventure Travel Lawyer, Outside Lawyer, Recreation Lawyer, Ski Lawyer, Paddlesports Lawyer, Cycling Lawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #FitnessLawyer, #RecLawyer, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #RopesCourseLawyer, #ZipLineLawyer, #RockClimbingLawyer, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #OutsideLawyer, Paramount, Release, Climbing Wall, Inflatable Climbing Wall,

WordPress Tags: Inflatable,injury,health,plaintiff,Citation,Paramount,Pictures,Corporation,Unpub,LEXIS,Robert,Vinson,Defendant,Claims,appellants,waiver,assumption,doctrine,failure,jury,discretion,Defenses,Release,Case,employee,purpose,event,amusements,individuals,hour,lesson,climbers,instructions,apron,operators,injuries,Summary,money,arguments,negligence,California,scope,events,Second,amusement,Third,opinions,accident,statements,version,defendants,paperwork,Fourth,Last,statement,news,cost,employees,worth,Leave,FaceBook,Twitter,LinkedIn,Recreation,Edit,Email,Google,RecreationLaw,Page,Outdoor,Adventure,Travel,Blog,Mobile,Site,James,Moss,Authorrank,author,Outside,Attorney,Tourism,Risk,Management,Human,Rock,Ropes,Course,Challenge,Summer,Camp,Camps,Youth,Areas,SkiLaw,OutdoorLaw,OutdoorRecreationLaw,AdventureTravelLaw,TravelLaw,JimMoss,JamesHMoss,AttorneyatLaw,AdventureTourism,RecLaw,RecLawBlog,RecreationLawBlog,RiskManagement,HumanPoweredRecreation,CyclingLaw,BicyclingLaw,FitnessLaw,RopesCourse,ChallengeCourse,SummerCamp,YouthCamps,Colorado,managers,helmet,accidents,Lawyer,Paddlesports,Recreational,Line,RecreationalLawyer,FitnessLawyer,RecLawyer,ChallengeCourseLawyer,RopesCourseLawyer,ZipLineLawyer,RockClimbingLawyer,AdventureTravelLawyer,OutsideLawyer,Wall,whether


In Nebraska a release can defeat claims for gross negligence for health club injury

Palmer v. Lakeside Wellness Center, 281 Neb. 780; 798 N.W.2d 845; 2011 Neb. LEXIS 62

Manufacturer of the health club equipment was able to squeak out a win by making sure the equipment met the applicable standards when the treadmill was manufactured.

This case is a health club fitness which is interesting because it covers several legal issues in ways that most courts will not. It also points out some simple things you can do to keep yourself out of court or losing in court.

A husband and wife, plaintiffs, joined a health club. After five weeks at the club the wife, went to get on a treadmill. She did not notice it was running and upon stepping on the treadmill she was thrown backwards into an elliptical trainer. The plaintiff had an injured hand and chest from the accident.

The area around the treadmill was allegedly, not well lit, however the plaintiff had not complained about the lighting. When she stepped on the treadmill she looked at the control panel but did not look at the belt. The treadmill was in a row of treadmills and the treadmills on either side of the treadmill in question were running. The plaintiff also said the treadmill area was loud.

The plaintiff had been using treadmills for 21 years. She had been using treadmills at the defendants approximately five times a week for five weeks and had used the treadmill in question 10 to 15 times. When she joined the defendant health club she received instructions from a trainer, but she stated she did not need instructions on how to operate a treadmill. The plaintiff also had a treadmill at home.

When the plaintiff and her husband joined the defendant health club she signed two documents which contained releases. The first was titled Membership agreement what had a release that included the word negligence in the language of the contract. The second form was a health history questionnaire which was signed by the plaintiff and also included release language.

The plaintiff and her husband sued the manufacturer of the treadmill, Precor, and the health club, Lakeside Wellness Center for her injuries. She claimed both defendants were negligent and were grossly negligent. Precor was allegedly negligent in making a treadmill without proper safety features and the health club was liable for not providing adequate lighting around the treadmill. There was also a claim that the health club had modified the treadmill belt so that it was unsafe.

The trial court granted both of the defendant’s motions for summary judgment. The plaintiff appealed saying the trial court erred in:

(1) granting summary judgment in favor of Lakeside and Precor;

(2) holding that the waiver and release contained in the membership agreement and health history questionnaire signed by Palmer were clear, understandable, and unambiguous; and

(3) holding that Palmer assumed the risk of using the treadmill.

Summary of the case

The court first looked at the issue of the release. The court ignored the issues of whether the release worked against negligence and reviewed the issues of releases and claims of gross negligence. However before starting its analysis, it dismissed Precor’s argument that it was a third party beneficiary of the release.

A third party beneficiary of a contract is usually identified as someone who is not named in the agreement, but obvious to all parties that they are to receive benefits of the agreement. An example would be a contract between a health club and a supplier of fitness equipment. The third party beneficiaries of that agreement would be the membership of the health club. When the third party beneficiary is not obvious in the agreement then the third parties as usually not construed as beneficiaries and do not have an interest in the contract.

In order for those not named as parties to recover under a contract as third-party beneficiaries, it must appear by express stipulation or by reasonable intendment that the rights and interest of such unnamed parties were contemplated and that provision was being made for them. The right of a third party benefited by a contract to sue thereon must affirmatively appear from the language of the instrument when properly interpreted or construed.

Here the court found that the agreement between a member and the health club did not identify the defendant manufacture by name or by any other identification. Because of that, the manufacturer could not be a third party beneficiary of the release.

Court then went back to the issue of the claim of gross negligence. Under Nebraska law gross negligence is defined as

Gross negligence is great or excessive negligence, which indicates the absence of even slight care in the performance of a duty. 5 Whether gross negligence exists must be ascertained from the facts and circumstances of each particular case and not from any fixed definition or rule.

Under Nebraska law the court could rule on whether the allegations of the complaint give rise to gross negligence. Here the court found the allegations did not. Inadequate lighting and the installation of a new belt on the treadmill did not meet the level needed to prove gross negligence.

Precor, the making of the treadmill in its motion to the trial court presented an affidavit stating that at the time the treadmill was made the treadmill “met or exceeded the voluntary guidelines set by the American Society for Testing and Materials” The affidavit included photographs of the treadmill to show what handrails existed and the fact that treadmill came with a clip that could be attached to the user’s clothing. If the clip was pulled it would disconnect and stop the treadmill. The treadmill was also made 7 years prior to the accident.

The plaintiff hired an expert who stated that the treadmill “should” have various safety features that were not on the treadmill. The court took note that the plaintiff’s expert did not say the treadmill had to have, did not speak in absolutes with regard to the safety features. Because the plaintiff’s expert was hesitant or could not be explicit on what was missing the court held that Precor was not negligent.

A third defense was raised on appeal, assumption of the risk, by the defendants. Because the court had dismissed the claims raised by the plaintiff already, the court did not get into that defense.

So Now What?

Obviously the better your release the greater your chances of winning. However there are several other issues here that you should pay attention too.

The plaintiff claimed that her injury was due to the fact the new belt on the treadmill did not contain markings that would indicate the treadmill was moving. If you replace or repair something, make sure you use equipment that meets the manufactures specs when you bought the machine or better. If the manufacturer had markings on the treadmill belt that indicated that the belt was moving you need to install a replacement belt that has similar markings.

Moreover, if you have the opportunity, whether or not the original belt was marked, to install a belt with markings, why not.

The assumption of the risk defense was not discussed by the court in its analysis, but was definitely part of the facts. In this case the defense team was able to elicit a lot of treadmill experience from the plaintiff. Many times, after an accident, the plaintiff will change their story. Getting experience or history up front is always safer.

And why not!

Why not include in your release language that protects everyone you can from litigation. There was a claim by the husband that one of the people running on the treadmill next to the one at issue had left that treadmill on. In some states, that would be enough to bring that other gym member into the suit. Write your release to keep you out of a lawsuit, also write it to keep everyone associated with your or that you benefit from out of the lawsuit. Just because you might not be named as the negligent party, you can still be brought in by the person who is named as the defendant. Protect you, your employees, other guests, visitors, volunteers, sponsors, and manufacturers dependent on what you do.

How many new customers are going to sign up as members if the word gets out you allowed one of them to be sued for an accident to another member.

If you do hear of problems from your guests or members, you need to respond. One issue that would have made the outcome different in this case would be a stack of “accident forms” or complaints about the lighting. If the plaintiff could prove that the lighting was bad because other people had complained about it or blamed it for their injuries, then I believe this would have had a different outcome. Don’t collect paperwork, solve problems.

 

Plaintiff: April Palmer

 

Defendant: Lakeside Wellness Center, Doing Business as Alegent Health, and Precor, Inc.

 

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence and Gross Negligence

 

Defendant Defenses: Release, Assumption of the Risk

 

Holding: for the defendants

 

What do you think? Leave a comment.

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FaceBook, Twitter or LinkedIn

Copyright 2013 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

Google+: +Recreation

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog: www.recreation-law.com

Mobile Site: http://m.recreation-law.com

By Recreation Law           Rec-law@recreation-law.com     James H. Moss                  Jim Moss

#RecreationLaw, #@RecreationLaw, #Cycling.Law #Fitness.Law, #Ski.Law, #Outside.Law, #Recreation.Law, #Recreation-Law.com, #Outdoor Law, #Recreation Law, #Outdoor Recreation Law, #Adventure Travel Law, #law, #Travel Law, #Jim Moss, #James H. Moss, #Attorney at Law, #Tourism, #Adventure Tourism, #Rec-Law, #Rec-Law Blog, #Recreation Law, #Recreation Law Blog, #Risk Management, #Human Powered, #Human Powered Recreation,# Cycling Law, #Bicycling Law, #Fitness Law, #Recreation-Law.com, #Backpacking, #Hiking, #Mountaineering, #Ice Climbing, #Rock Climbing, #Ropes Course, #Challenge Course, #Summer Camp, #Camps, #Youth Camps, #Skiing, #Ski Areas, #Negligence, #Snowboarding, #RecreationLaw, #@RecreationLaw, #Cycling.Law #Fitness.Law, #SkiLaw, #Outside.Law, #Recreation.Law, #RecreationLaw.com, #OutdoorLaw, #RecreationLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #AdventureTravelLaw, #Law, #TravelLaw, #JimMoss, #JamesHMoss, #AttorneyatLaw, #Tourism, #AdventureTourism, #RecLaw, #RecLawBlog, #RecreationLawBlog, #RiskManagement, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation,# CyclingLaw, #BicyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #RecreationLaw.com, #Backpacking, #Hiking, #Mountaineering, #IceClimbing, #RockClimbing, #RopesCourse, #ChallengeCourse, #SummerCamp, #Camps, #YouthCamps, #Skiing, #Ski Areas, #Negligence, #Snowboarding, sport and recreation laws, ski law, cycling law, Colorado law, law for recreation and sport managers, bicycling and the law, cycling and the law, ski helmet law, skiers code, skiing accidents, Recreation Lawyer, Ski Lawyer, Paddlesports Lawyer, Cycling Lawyer, Recreational Lawyer, Fitness Lawyer, Rec Lawyer, Challenge Course Lawyer, Ropes Course Lawyer, Zip Line Lawyer, Rock Climbing Lawyer, Adventure Travel Lawyer, Outside Lawyer, Recreation Lawyer, Ski Lawyer, Paddlesports Lawyer, Cycling Lawyer, #RecreationalLawyer, #FitnessLawyer, #RecLawyer, #ChallengeCourseLawyer, #RopesCourseLawyer, #ZipLineLawyer, #RockClimbingLawyer, #AdventureTravelLawyer, #OutsideLawyer, Lakeside Wellness Center, Alegent Health, Precor, Inc., Negligence, Gross Negligence, Health Club, Release, Fitness Center, Treadmill,

WordPress Tags: Nebraska,negligence,health,injury,Palmer,Lakeside,Center,LEXIS,Manufacturer,equipment,treadmill,husband,wife,plaintiffs,trainer,plaintiff,chest,accident,area,panel,treadmills,defendants,defendant,instructions,Membership,agreement,history,questionnaire,Precor,injuries,judgment,waiver,Summary,analysis,argument,beneficiary,example,supplier,beneficiaries,stipulation,provision,instrument,Here,member,identification,Court,Under,Gross,absence,performance,Whether,definition,allegations,complaint,Inadequate,installation,affidavit,guidelines,American,Materials,handrails,fact,user,absolutes,assumption,attention,markings,specs,machine,Moreover,team,Many,litigation,Write,lawsuit,Just,person,Protect,employees,guests,visitors,manufacturers,customers,outcome,complaints,paperwork,April,Alegent,Claims,Defenses,Release,Risk,Leave,FaceBook,Twitter,LinkedIn,Recreation,Edit,Email,Google,RecreationLaw,Page,Outdoor,Adventure,Travel,Blog,Mobile,Site,James,Moss,Outside,Attorney,Tourism,Management,Human,Rock,Ropes,Course,Challenge,Summer,Camp,Camps,Youth,Areas,SkiLaw,OutdoorLaw,OutdoorRecreationLaw,AdventureTravelLaw,TravelLaw,JimMoss,JamesHMoss,AttorneyatLaw,AdventureTourism,RecLaw,RecLawBlog,RecreationLawBlog,RiskManagement,HumanPoweredRecreation,CyclingLaw,BicyclingLaw,FitnessLaw,RopesCourse,ChallengeCourse,SummerCamp,YouthCamps,Colorado,managers,helmet,accidents,Lawyer,Paddlesports,Recreational,Line,RecreationalLawyer,FitnessLawyer,RecLawyer,ChallengeCourseLawyer,RopesCourseLawyer,ZipLineLawyer,RockClimbingLawyer,AdventureTravelLawyer,OutsideLawyer,Club,five,weeks,third


Palmer v. Lakeside Wellness Center, 281 Neb. 780; 798 N.W.2d 845; 2011 Neb. LEXIS 62

Palmer v. Lakeside Wellness Center, 281 Neb. 780; 798 N.W.2d 845; 2011 Neb. LEXIS 62

April Palmer, Appellant, v. Lakeside Wellness Center, Doing Business as Alegent Health, and Precor, Inc., Appellees.

No. S-10-974.

SUPREME COURT OF NEBRASKA

281 Neb. 780; 798 N.W.2d 845; 2011 Neb. LEXIS 62

June 24, 2011, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [***1]

Appeal from the District Court for Douglas County: JOSEPH S. TROIA, Judge.

DISPOSITION: AFFIRMED.

HEADNOTES

1. Summary Judgment: Appeal and Error. An appellate court will affirm a lower court’s granting of summary judgment if the pleadings and admitted evidence show that there is no genuine issue as to any material facts or as to the ultimate inferences that may be drawn from those facts and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

2. Summary Judgment: Appeal and Error. In reviewing a summary judgment, the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom the judgment was granted, and gives that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences deducible from the evidence.

3. Contracts: Parties: Intent. In order for those not named as parties to recover under a contract as third-party beneficiaries, it must appear by express stipulation or by reasonable intendment that the rights and interest of such unnamed parties were contemplated and that provision was being made for them.

4. Contracts: Parties. The right of a third party benefited by a contract to sue must affirmatively appear from the language of the instrument when properly inter preted or construed.

5. Negligence: Words and Phrases. Gross negligence is great or excessive negligence, which indicates the absence of even slight care in the performance of a duty.

6. Negligence. Whether gross negligence exists must be ascertained from the facts and circumstances of each particular case and not from any fixed definition or rule.

7. Negligence: Summary Judgment. The issue of gross negligence is susceptible to resolution in a motion for summary judgment.

COUNSEL: Heather Voegele-Andersen and Brenda K. George, of Koley Jessen, P.C., L.L.O., for appellant.

David L. Welch and Ashley E. Dieckman, of Pansing, Hogan, Ernst & Bachman, L.L.P., for appellee Lakeside Wellness Center.

Albert M. Engles and Cory J. Kerger, of Engles, Ketcham, Olson & Keith, P.C., for appellee Precor, Inc.

JUDGES: HEAVICAN, C.J., CONNOLLY, GERRARD, STEPHAN, and MCCORMACK, JJ. WRIGHT and MILLER-LERMAN, JJ., not participating.

OPINION BY: HEAVICAN

OPINION

[**847] [*781] Heavican, C.J.

INTRODUCTION

The appellant, April Palmer, was injured while on a treadmill at Lakeside Wellness Center (Lakeside). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Lakeside, doing business as Alegent Health, and Precor, Inc. Palmer appeals. We affirm.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Palmer’s Accident.

Palmer and her husband joined Lakeside in November 2006. The accident occurred several months later, on March 7, 2007. On that date, Palmer approached the treadmill in question to begin her workout. Unaware that the treadmill belt was running, Palmer stepped onto the treadmill from the back and was thrown off the belt and into an elliptical training [**848] machine located behind [***2] her. During her deposition, Palmer stated that she looked at the treadmill’s control panel before getting on, but did not look at the belt of the treadmill. Palmer indicated that had she looked at the belt, she probably would have been able to see that it was operating, but that since she assumed the treadmill was off, she did not look further. According to Palmer, she thought the area was poorly lit, though she had never complained about it to any Lakeside staff members. And Palmer indicated that the facility was loud and that she was unable to hear whether the machine was operating.

This treadmill was located in a row of treadmills, and the treadmills to the right and left of the machine in question were [*782] being used at the time of the accident. In Palmer’s husband’s deposition, he testified that the woman on a neighboring treadmill told him she had been on that treadmill briefly before switching to the neighboring machine and had mistakenly thought she had turned it off.

Palmer’s Familiarity With Treadmills.

During her deposition, Palmer was asked about her exercise history and her familiarity with treadmills. Palmer testified that she and her husband had been members of other gyms prior [***3] to joining Lakeside. Palmer testified that she received instruction from a trainer after joining Lakeside, though she stated that she did not need specific instruction on how to operate a treadmill. According to Palmer’s testimony, she had been using treadmills for approximately 21 years. At the time of the accident, Palmer had been using the Lakeside facility at least 5 times a week and had used that actual treadmill 10 to 15 times total prior to the accident. Palmer also testified that she had a treadmill in her home.

Palmer’s Membership Agreement and Health History Questionnaire.

At the time Palmer and her husband became members at Lakeside, Palmer filled out and signed a membership agreement and a health history questionnaire. The membership agreement provided:

WAIVER AND RELEASE–You acknowledge that your attendance or use of [Lakeside] including without limitation to your participation in any of [Lakeside’s] programs or activities and your use of [Lakeside’s] equipment and facilities, and transportation provided by [Lakeside] could cause injury to you. In consideration of your membership in [Lakeside], you hereby assume all risks of injury which may result from or arise out of your [***4] attendance at or use of [Lakeside] or its equipment, activities, facilities, or transportation; and you agree, on behalf of yourself and your heirs, executors, administrators, and assigns to fully and forever release and discharge [Lakeside] and affiliates and their respective officers, directors, employees, agents, [*783] successors and assigns, and each of them (collectively the “Releasees”) from any and all claims, damages, rights of action or causes of action, present or future, known or unknown, anticipated or unanticipated, resulting from or arising out of your attendance at or use of [Lakeside] or its equipment, activities, facilities or transportation, including without limitation any claims, damages, demands, rights of action or causes of action resulting from or arising out of the negligence of the Releasees. Further, you hereby agree to waive any and all such claims, damages, demands, rights of action or causes of action. Further you hereby agree to release and discharge the Releasees from any and all liability for any loss or theft of, or damage to, personal property. You acknowledge that you have [**849] carefully read this waiver and release and fully understand that it is a waiver [***5] and release of liability.

The health history questionnaire signed by Palmer stated in relevant part as follows:

1. In consideration of being allowed to participate in the activities and programs of [Lakeside] and to use its facilities, equipment and machinery in addition to the payment of any fee or charge, I do hereby waive, release and forever discharge [Lakeside] and its directors, officers, agents, employees, representatives, successors and assigns, administrators, executors and all other [sic] from any and all responsibilities or liability from injuries or damages resulting from my participation in any activities or my use of equipment or machinery in the above mentioned activities. I do also hereby release all of those mentioned and any others acting upon their behalf from any responsibility or liability for any injury or damage to myself, including those caused by the negligent act or omission of any way arising out of or connected with my participation in any activities of [Lakeside] or the use of any equipment at [Lakeside]. . . .

2. I understand and am aware that strength, flexibility and aerobic exercise, including the use of equipment are a potentially hazardous activity. [***6] I also understand that fitness activities involve the risk of injury and even death, [*784] and that I am voluntarily participating in these activities and using equipment and machinery with knowledge of the dangers involved. I hereby agree to expressly assume and accept any and all risks of injury or death. . . .

Palmer sued Lakeside and Precor for her injuries, which generally consisted of an injured hand and chest. Both Lakeside and Precor filed motions for summary judgment, which were granted. Palmer appeals.

ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

Palmer assigns that the district court erred in (1) granting summary judgment in favor of Lakeside and Precor; (2) holding that the waiver and release contained in the membership agreement and health history questionnaire signed by Palmer were clear, understandable, and unambiguous; and (3) holding that Palmer assumed the risk of using the treadmill.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[1] [HN1] An appellate court will affirm a lower court’s granting of summary judgment if the pleadings and admitted evidence show that there is no genuine issue as to any material facts or as to the ultimate inferences that may be drawn from those facts and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as [***7] a matter of law. 1

1 Wilson v. Fieldgrove, 280 Neb. 548, 787 N.W.2d 707 (2010).

[2] [HN2] In reviewing a summary judgment, the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom the judgment was granted, and gives that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences deducible from the evidence. 2

2 Id.

ANALYSIS

Waiver and Release.

Palmer first argues that the district court erred in finding that the waiver and release contained in the membership agreement and health history questionnaire she completed and signed when joining Lakeside were clear, understandable, and unambiguous. We read Palmer’s argument as contending that the waivers, [**850] while perhaps applicable to instances of ordinary negligence, [*785] could not operate to relieve Lakeside or Precor from gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct. We further understand Palmer to argue that both Lakeside and Precor committed gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct–Precor by delivering a treadmill without proper safety features, and Lakeside by not providing adequate space or lighting around the treadmill and by modifying the treadmill’s belt such that the treadmill became unsafe.

[3,4] Before reaching the merits [***8] of Palmer’s argument, we note that contrary to Precor’s argument, Precor is not protected from liability as a result of the waivers signed by Palmer. Precor contends in its brief that it is a third-party beneficiary of these waivers. This court recently addressed a similar issue in Podraza v. New Century Physicians of Neb. 3 In Podraza, we noted that we have traditionally strictly construed who has the right to enforce a contract as a third-party beneficiary.

[HN3] In order for those not named as parties to recover under a contract as third-party beneficiaries, it must appear by express stipulation or by reasonable intendment that the rights and interest of such unnamed parties were contemplated and that provision was being made for them. The right of a third party benefited by a contract to sue thereon must affirmatively appear from the language of the instrument when properly interpreted or construed.

Authorities are in accord that one suing as a third-party beneficiary has the burden of showing that the provision was for his or her direct benefit. Unless one can sustain this burden, a purported third-party beneficiary will be deemed merely incidentally benefited and will not be permitted [***9] to recover on or enforce the agreement. 4

3 Podraza v. New Century Physicians of Neb., 280 Neb. 678, 789 N.W.2d 260 (2010).

4 Id. at 686, 789 N.W.2d at 267.

A review of the record shows that Precor was not explicitly mentioned in the language of the waiver. Nor is there any other evidence that Precor was an intended third-party beneficiary. Precor has the burden to show its status as a third-party beneficiary, and it has failed to meet that burden. As such, Precor [*786] is not shielded from liability as a result of the waivers signed by Palmer.

Lakeside’s Gross Negligence or Willful and Wanton Conduct.

At oral argument, Palmer conceded that by virtue of these waivers, Lakeside was not liable to Palmer for damages caused by ordinary negligence. But, as noted above, Palmer contends that Lakeside is nevertheless liable, because its actions were grossly negligent or were willful and wanton.

Having examined the record in this case, we find that as a matter of law, Palmer’s allegations against Lakeside do not rise to the level of gross negligence. Palmer alleges that the Lakeside facility had inadequate lighting and inadequate spacing between equipment and that Lakeside’s employees modified the treadmill [***10] in question by installing a treadmill belt that did not contain markings.

[5-7] [HN4] Gross negligence is great or excessive negligence, which indicates the absence of even slight care in the performance of a duty. 5 Whether gross negligence exists must be ascertained from the facts and circumstances of each particular case and not from any fixed definition or rule. 6 [**851] The issue of gross negligence is susceptible to resolution in a motion for summary judgment. 7 We simply cannot conclude that the allegations against Lakeside–inadequate lighting and spacing and the installation of a new treadmill belt–rise to such a level. We therefore conclude that as a matter of law, any negligence by Lakeside was not gross negligence or willful or wanton conduct. As such, the district court did not err in granting Lakeside’s motion for summary judgment.

5 Bennett v. Labenz, 265 Neb. 750, 659 N.W.2d 339 (2003).

6 Id.

7 Id.

Precor’s Negligence.

We next turn to the question of whether the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Precor. Because we concluded above that the waiver signed by Palmer did not [*787] act to relieve Precor from liability, we address whether there was a genuine issue of material [***11] fact on the issue of whether Precor breached any duty it had to Palmer.

In arguing that Precor was liable, Palmer alleges that Precor breached its duty by not equipping the treadmill with (1) a safety feature that would prevent the treadmill from operating when no one was on it and (2) handrails extending down the sides toward the back of the treadmill. Palmer originally argued that Precor was also liable because the belt on its treadmill failed to contain adequate markings, but it is this court’s understanding that Palmer no longer makes such allegations with regard to Precor because the belt on the treadmill at the time of the incident was not original to the treadmill and had been installed by Lakeside.

In response to Palmer’s allegations, Precor introduced evidence in the form of an affidavit from its director of product development, Greg May. May averred that at the time of manufacture and delivery, the treadmill met or exceeded the voluntary guidelines set by the American Society for Testing and Materials in that group’s international standard specifications for motorized treadmills in all ways, including handrails. Though there was no specific feature on this treadmill designed [***12] to stop the treadmill from running when no one was operating it, the machine was manufactured with a clip to be attached to the user’s clothing. The manual for this treadmill noted that “by taking this precaution, a tug on the safety switch cord trips the safety switch and slows the running speed to a safe stop.” May also averred that the treadmill in question left Precor’s control on July 29, 1999, or over 7 years prior to the date of the incident.

In addition to May’s affidavit, Precor also introduced photographs of the treadmill at issue, which photographs showed that the treadmill did have front handrails, though not side handrails.

In an attempt to rebut May’s affidavit and show a genuine issue of material fact, Palmer introduced the affidavit of a fitness consultant. That affidavit noted in part that

based on [the consultant’s] experience, in order for treadmills to meet appropriate safety standards from the late [*788] 1990s forward, treadmills should contain adequate safety features, emergency/safety stop mechanisms, warning labels, and markings on a treadmill belt. A treadmill should contain a safety stop mechanism such that the treadmill will turn off if no one is currently on the [***13] treadmill, adequate handrails extending towards the back of the treadmill and warning labels at the rear of the treadmill.

Even after drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of Palmer, we conclude that there is no genuine issue of material fact as to Precor’s alleged breach of duty. While the fitness consultant’s affidavit indicates that treadmills “should” contain [**852] various safety features, he does not speak in absolutes and does not refer specifically to this treadmill. On the other hand, May’s affidavit references the treadmill at issue in this case and details the safety features this treadmill possessed, as well as Precor’s compliance with all applicable, though voluntary, safety standards when manufacturing the treadmill. Because the record affirmatively shows that Precor did not breach any duty it owed to Palmer, we conclude that the district court did not err in granting Precor’s motion for summary judgment.

Assumption of Risk.

Palmer also argues that the district court erred in finding that she assumed the risk of injury when she used the treadmill. Because we conclude that the district court did not err in granting Lakeside’s and Precor’s motions for summary judgment for the [***14] foregoing reasons, we need not address Palmer’s assignment of error regarding the assumption of the risk.

CONCLUSION

The district court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of Lakeside and Precor is affirmed.

AFFIRMED.

Wright and Miller-Lerman, JJ., not participating.

WordPress Tags: Palmer,Lakeside,Center,LEXIS,April,Appellant,Alegent,Health,Precor,Appellees,SUPREME,COURT,NEBRASKA,June,PRIOR,HISTORY,Appeal,District,Douglas,JOSEPH,TROIA,Judge,DISPOSITION,HEADNOTES,Summary,Judgment,Error,inferences,Contracts,Parties,Intent,beneficiaries,stipulation,provision,instrument,Negligence,Words,Phrases,Gross,absence,performance,Whether,definition,COUNSEL,Heather,Voegele,Andersen,Brenda,George,Koley,Jessen,David,Welch,Ashley,Dieckman,Hogan,Ernst,Bachman,Albert,Engles,Cory,Kerger,Ketcham,Olson,Keith,JUDGES,HEAVICAN,GERRARD,STEPHAN,MCCORMACK,MILLER,LERMAN,OPINION,INTRODUCTION,treadmill,FACTUAL,BACKGROUND,Accident,husband,November,March,workout,Unaware,machine,panel,area,treadmills,woman,gyms,instruction,trainer,testimony,Membership,Agreement,Questionnaire,WAIVER,RELEASE,attendance,limitation,participation,equipment,facilities,transportation,injury,heirs,executors,administrators,officers,directors,employees,agents,successors,Releasees,action,Further,theft,machinery,addition,payment,injuries,omission,strength,death,knowledge,dangers,chest,Both,ASSIGNMENTS,STANDARD,REVIEW,Wilson,Fieldgrove,ANALYSIS,argument,waivers,instances,misconduct,beneficiary,Podraza,Century,Physicians,Authorities,status,Willful,Wanton,Conduct,virtue,allegations,markings,installation,Bennett,Labenz,fact,handrails,incident,response,affidavit,director,product,development,Greg,guidelines,American,Materials,specifications,Though,user,precaution,cord,consultant,mechanisms,mechanism,absolutes,references,compliance,Assumption,Risk,assignment,CONCLUSION,appellate,pleadings,whom,deducible,third,appellee,hereby,behalf


Not a final decision, but I believe an indication of where the law of AED’s is heading however the basis for the decision is nuts!

Miglino, Jr., etc., v Bally Total Fitness of Greater New York, Inc., et al., 2011 NY Slip Op 9603; 2011 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 9478

Calling 911 according to this court is starting a rescue which creates liability for failing to complete the rescue!

This case was appealed and upheld in Miglino, Jr., v Bally Total Fitness of Greater New York, Inc., 20 N.Y.3d 342; 985 N.E.2d 128; 961 N.Y.S.2d 364; 2013 N.Y. LEXIS 111; 2013 NY Slip Op 780.

There are a lot of motions, trial and appeals to go in this case before you could rely on this decision. However it is indicative of where the law is probably heading. If the statute requires you to have an AED (Automatic External Defibrillator) at your facility, you may be liable if you do not use it.

In this case, the deceased was playing racquet ball when he suffered a heart attack. An employee of the health club where he worked called 911 and went to his side with an AED. The employee left for an unknown reason and came back. When he left the deceased was still breathing. When he came back, a physician was attending the deceased.

At no time did the health club employee use the AED. The family of the deceased sued the health club. The allegations were that since the New York statute (General Business Law § 627-a) mandated the health club have an AED, then it was negligence not to use the AED. Whether or not the AED would have helped has seemed to have escaped the confines of the litigation.

The defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. This means the allegations in the complaint of the plaintiff do not meet the minimum requirements to state a legal claim under the law and therefore the plaintiff’s case should be dismissed.

The legal basis of the motion was the statute did not require the use of the AED and any use of the AED was protected by the AED Good Samaritan Act, (Public Health Law § 3000-a). The motion of the defendants was denied and the defendants appealed that denial.

So? Summary of the case

First the appellate court looked at the statute requiring health clubs to have AEDs and employees trained in how to use the AED’s.

General Business Law § 627-a: automated external defibrillator requirements:

1. Every health club [with more than 500 members] shall have . . . at least one [AED], and shall have in attendance, at all times during staffed business hours, at least one individual performing employment . . . who holds a valid certification of completion of a course in the study of the operation of AEDs and a valid certification of the completion of a course in the training of cardiopulmonary resuscitation provided by a nationally recognized organization or association.

The court also looked at the AED Good Samaritan law.

“3. Pursuant to [Public Health Law §§ 3000-a and 3000-b], any public access defibrillation provider, or any employee . . . of the provider who, in accordance with . . . this section, voluntarily and without expectation of monetary compensation renders emergency medical or first aid treatment using an AED which has been made available pursuant to this section, to a person who is unconscious, ill or injured, shall be liable only pursuant to [Public Health Law § 3000-a].

The court stated the purpose of the statute was to save lives and therefore the health clubs were required to use the AEDs. “Stated differently, why statutorily mandate a health club facility to provide the device if there is no concomitant requirement to use it?”

A basic axiom in US law has always been there is no duty to rescue unless you placed the victim in the peril from which he needs rescued. By that, you can come across someone who is in need of help and you have no legal obligation to help.

Once you start to help though, you cannot leave the victim at that point. Once you start first aid, you cannot abandon the victim unless higher medical care arrives on the scene.

The court found the health club employee had started to rescue the deceased when he “directed that a 911 emergency call be made, sought medical assistance within the club, and took the decedent’s pulse.”

All three of the things the employee did were marginally, if at all, a rescue or first aid. If directing someone to call 911 constitutes starting a rescue, don’t expect me to pick up the phone if you are dying or tell someone else to call.

The court continues this stretch into the wild blue yonder with this statement. Since the health club employee was trained in the use of the AED, “his failure to use the device was tantamount to not acting carefully.”

Negligence can be proved for acting or in some cases for failing to act. However the failure to act had to have been predicated upon a duty to act that was more than speculation or hypothetical. Here the court has taken the fact that training now requires you to act on that training or you are liable. How far will this court go to hold someone liable for the bad luck in dying one day?

·        I am trained to provide first aid, yet I do not have the proper equipment, am I now liable when I cannot help the person so I do not help the person?

·        You are bleeding but I have no gloves or blood borne pathogen protection, even though I’ve been trained to stop your bleeding. Am I now liable for placing my family’s and my health above that of a stranger?

·        You are dying in the middle of a gun fight. I am safe and you are still surrounding by bullets, am I liable for not running out in the street to safe you when my training might assist you? Am I now required to risk my life because I have the training to save yours?

This seems like a stretch; however I don’t see these examples as any greater stretches than where the court has gone in this case.

The court found that because this was a preliminary motion that there may be enough information to keep the plaintiff’s claims alive, not matter how far this court had to stretch to do so.

So Now What?

The only thing this court has done for sure is scare people away from calling 911 when they see someone in trouble. Look at the liability of an elderly person with no physical ability and no training being held liable for the injuries of someone when all they did was call 911. They have no other skill set to assist someone in need, yet according to this court, calling 911 is the same as performing first aid.

My analysis, the standard of care on having and using AED’s is changing to one of if you have it by statute you must use it by law. First there are several issues that have not been discussed in this case that would eliminate any liability of the defendants.

1.       A physician is the senior medical person on the scene it is probably illegal for the health club employee to perform any medical care while the physician is in attendance.

2.      Would the AED have done anything?

3.      Is taking a pulse or calling for help rescue?

4.      If there was a pulse, does that not eliminate the need for the AED?

If this case continues on its present track, I think if you live in New York there are a few things you need to do.

1.       Go back to the legislature to define performing medical assistance to not include calling 911 or directing someone to call 911.

2.      Go back to the NY legislature and include in the Good Samaritan act that directing someone to get help does not create liability on your part from an injured third party.

And probably put an AED in your business, learn how to use it and use it.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FB, Twitter or LinkedIn

Copyright 2012 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

blog@rec-law.us

Twitter: RecreationLaw

Facebook: Rec.Law.Now

Facebook Page: Outdoor Recreation & Adventure Travel Law

Blog:www.recreation-law.com

Mobile Site: http://m.recreation-law.com

#RecreationLaw, #@RecreationLaw, #Cycling.Law #Fitness.Law, #Ski.Law, #Outside.Law, #Recreation.Law, #Recreation-Law.com, #Outdoor Law, #Recreation Law, #Outdoor Recreation Law, #Adventure Travel Law, #law, #Travel Law, #Jim Moss, #James H. Moss, #Attorney at Law, #Tourism, #Adventure Tourism, #Rec-Law, #Rec-Law Blog, #Recreation Law, #Recreation Law Blog, #Risk Management, #Human Powered, #Human Powered Recreation,# Cycling Law, #Bicycling Law, #Fitness Law, #Recreation-Law.com, #Backpacking, #Hiking, #Mountaineering, #Ice Climbing, #Rock Climbing, #Ropes Course, #Challenge Course, #Summer Camp, #Camps, #Youth Camps, #Skiing, #Ski Areas, #Negligence, #Snowboarding, #RecreationLaw, #@RecreationLaw, #Cycling.Law #Fitness.Law, #SkiLaw, #Outside.Law, #Recreation.Law, #RecreationLaw.com, #OutdoorLaw, #RecreationLaw, #OutdoorRecreationLaw, #AdventureTravelLaw, #Law, #TravelLaw, #JimMoss, #JamesHMoss, #AttorneyatLaw, #Tourism, #AdventureTourism, #RecLaw, #RecLawBlog, #RecreationLawBlog, #RiskManagement, #HumanPowered, #HumanPoweredRecreation,# CyclingLaw, #BicyclingLaw, #FitnessLaw, #RecreationLaw.com, #Backpacking, #Hiking, #Mountaineering, #IceClimbing, #RockClimbing, #RopesCourse, #ChallengeCourse, #SummerCamp, #Camps, #YouthCamps, #Skiing, #Ski Areas, #Negligence, #Snowboarding, sport and recreation laws, ski law, cycling law, Colorado law, law for recreation and sport managers, bicycling and the law, cycling and the law, ski helmet law, skiers code, skiing accidents, #AED, #NY, New York Automatic External Defibrillator, Health Club, #Club, #Gym, Duty to Rescue, Duty to Perform Medical Care, First Aid,

WordPress Tags: decision,indication,basis,Miglino,Total,Greater,York,Slip,LEXIS,statute,Automatic,External,Defibrillator,racquet,ball,employee,health,physician,allegations,General,negligence,Whether,litigation,defendants,failure,relief,complaint,plaintiff,requirements,Samaritan,Public,denial,Summary,AEDs,employees,attendance,hours,employment,certification,completion,resuscitation,association,Pursuant,provider,accordance,expectation,compensation,treatment,person,purpose,device,requirement,axiom,victim,peril,obligation,Once,assistance,statement,speculation,Here,fact,luck,equipment,blood,protection,bullets,street,life,examples,information,Look,injuries,skill,analysis,legislature,Leave,Twitter,LinkedIn,Recreation,Edit,RecreationLaw,Facebook,Page,Outdoor,Adventure,Travel,Blog,Mobile,Site,Outside,Moss,James,Attorney,Tourism,Risk,Management,Human,Rock,Ropes,Course,Challenge,Summer,Camp,Camps,Youth,Areas,SkiLaw,OutdoorLaw,OutdoorRecreationLaw,AdventureTravelLaw,TravelLaw,JimMoss,JamesHMoss,AttorneyatLaw,AdventureTourism,RecLaw,RecLawBlog,RecreationLawBlog,RiskManagement,HumanPoweredRecreation,CyclingLaw,BicyclingLaw,FitnessLaw,RopesCourse,ChallengeCourse,SummerCamp,YouthCamps,Colorado,managers,helmet,accidents,Club,Rescue,Perform,Medical,Care,upon

Enhanced by Zemanta