By Doyice Cotten
All health clubs need a sound risk management program aimed at the prevention of injuries. Included in that program should also be the use of a comprehensive, broadly worded liability waiver – just in case the risk management program does not work perfectly. In the following case, Locke v. Life Time Fitness, Inc. (2014), we find that Illinois waiver law requires that a waiver be specific and put the client on notice of the risks faced.
Antowine Locke was a member of a Life Time Fitness center when he suddenly collapsed at the Club due to sudden cardiac arrest while playing basketball. An AED was available, but employees at the Club allegedly failed to retrieve and use it. Over six minutes allegedly elapsed before Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel arrived at the scene and treated Antowine.
Locke contends that Antowine died due to the negligence of employees at the Club which included:
- failing to use the AED on Antowine,
- incorrectly informing the 911 operator that Antowine was suffering from an asthma attack,
- failing to adopt an emergency response plan,
- failing to train employees at the Club to properly identify and respond to health emergencies,
- failing to have such trained employees present during business hours, and
- failing to provide proper crowd control following the collapse of Antowine.
Life Time Fitness claimed protection from a waiver signed by Locke.
ASSUMPTION OF RISK AND WAIVER OF LIABILITY
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. This risk includes, but is not limited to:
1) Injuries arising from the use of any Life Time Fitness’ centers or equipment, including any accidental or ‘slip and fall’ injuries;
2) Injuries arising from participation in supervised or unsupervised activities and programs within a Life Time Fitness center or outside a Life Time Fitness center, to the extent sponsored or endorsed by Life Time Fitness;
3) Injuries or medical disorders resulting from exercise at a Life Time Fitness center, including, but not limited to, heart attacks, strokes, heart stress, sprains, broken bones and torn muscles or ligaments; and
4) Injuries resulting from the actions taken or decisions made regarding medical or survival procedures.[emphasis added]
I understand and voluntarily accept this risk. I agree to specifically assume all risk of injury, whether physical or mental, as well as all risk of loss, theft or damage of personal property for me, any person that is a part of this membership and any guest under this membership while such persons are using or present at any Life Time Fitness center, using any lockers, equipment, or services at any Life Time Fitness center or participating in Life Time Fitness’ programs, whether such programs take place inside or outside of a Life Time Fitness center. I waive any and all claims or actions that may arise against Life Time Fitness, Inc., its affiliates, subsidiaries, successors or assigns (collectively, ‘Life Time Fitness’) as well as each party’s owners, directors, employees or volunteers as a result of any such injury, loss, theft, or damage to any such person, including and without limitation, personal bodily or mental injury, economic loss or any damage to me, my spouse, my children, or guests resulting from the negligence of Life Time Fitness or anyone else using a Life Time Fitness center. If there is any claim by anyone based on any injury, loss, theft or damage that involves me, any person that is a part of my membership, or any guest under this membership, I agree to defend Life Time Fitness against such claims and pay Life Time Fitness for all expenses relating to the claim, and indemnify Life Time Fitness for all obligations resulting from such claims.
. . .
I agree to and accept the terms and conditions above and I have received a complete copy of my Member Usage Agreement.
Locke argued that Illinois law provides that in order for an exculpatory clause to be valid, it “must spell out the intention of the parties with great particularity and will not be construed to defeat a claim which is not explicitly covered by their terms.” Locke claimed that a waiver must 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” and mus put the plaintiff 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.” She claimed that the waiver in this case covers actions or procedures regarding medical procedures, but does not address the issue of improper training of Life Time employees regarding the proper response to health emergencies.
Life Time argued that Antowine agreed to assume the “inherent risk of injury,” and that improper training by Life Time employees was an inherent risk. Life Time also pointed out that the agreement waived any claims for injuries “resulting from the negligence of Life Time Fitness.”
The court ruled that the waiver was not against public policy and protected Life Time from all claims of Locke except the claim that Life Time failed to train employees regarding emergency response. Summary judgment in favor of Life Time was denied on that issue and the issue would be resolved by jury.
Take-Aways From the Case
While a waiver can be overly broad, in this case the waiver was not quite broad enough. Of course, the best solution is to address risk management prior to any injury; any sound risk management program would include the inclusion of emergency training. In such a case, the AED would have been used, Locke might have been saved and pats-on-the-back would be in order – and no lawsuit.