By Doyice Cotten
In a recent case (Geczi v. Lifetime Fitness, 2012 Ohio App. LEXIS 2580), Jodi Geczi was injured when her treadmill began jerking violently. The case revealed some serious risk management deficiencies that can be easily avoided by health club management.
First, an employee told her he had known the treadmill was broken.
Second, a club manager told her that he had known the treadmill was malfunctioning the night before.
Third, apparently Lifetime had taken no action to decommission the treadmill; there was no out of order sign, it was not unplugged, and was not made unavailable to patrons in any other way.
Fourth, there was no warning sign the machine was working improperly, hence there was a failure to warn.
Fifth, the club, apparently, had no functioning risk management procedure for addressing out-of-order equipment.
Finally, employees and management made comments to the client that, if true, might increase the liability of the club. Employees should be trained regarding actions following an incident.
The liability waiver was adequate to protect the club from liability for negligence; however, the plaintiff alleged that the conduct of the club (based largely on the comments of the employees) constituted reckless and willful/wanton misconduct. In Ohio, waivers do not protect against such conduct.
The case went to a jury and fortunately for the club, the jury did not agree that the club acted recklessly or wantonly/willfully. Thus, there was no liability.
There was, however, loss for the club in terms of worry, time involved in defending the suit, possibly increased insurance premiums, and possibly customer relations. All could have been avoided by correcting the risk management deficiencies listed previously. Waivers are valuable and important – but nothing take the place of a good risk management program.