By Doyice Cotten
Robert Wagner, a Life Time Fitness client, suffered injury when he stepped onto a treadmill that was already in motion. No detail was given as to how the club was negligent (Wagner v. LTF Club Operations Company, Inc. (2019). Since Wagner failed to designate specific facts showing that there was a genuine issue for trial, there was no evidence that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Consequently, the trial judge granted summary judgment based on the LTF waiver of liability signed by Wagner.
In Jones v. Dressel (1981), the Colorado Supreme Court articulated four factors to use in determining whether an exculpatory clause 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 is expressed in clear and unambiguous language. In this case, both parties agree that the first three factors are satisfied here. There was no additional duty to the public, recreational facilities are not an essential public service, and the contract was fairly entered into. Wagner, however, claims the waiver language was not clear and unambiguous and that the intention of LTF to disclaim liability for its negligence was not clear.
It was, therefore, the job of the appellate court to decide whether the exculpatory intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language in the waiver. The court first points out that the agreement states in bold, underlined, and capitalized text, that it is a “waiver of liability.” Secondly, also in boldface font, the signer “agree[s] not to sue Life Time for, and waive, any claims . . . for any Injuries to [him or her] . . . which arise out of, result from, or are caused by any Ordinary NEGLIGENCE OF LIFE TIME.” And finally, the next paragraph consists of a detailed definition of negligence, thereby, providing the Wagner detail regarding the extent of the liability the Wagner was relinquishing. The definition read:
Negligence Claims include but are not limited to Life Time’s (1) negligent design, construction . . ., repair, maintenance, operation, supervision, monitoring, or provision of Life Time Premises and Services; (2) negligent failure to warn of or remove a hazardous, unsafe, dangerous or defective condition; (3) negligent failure to provide or keep premises in a reasonably safe condition. . . .
The appellant judge found the terms of the waiver are clear, and that the unambiguous intent of the parties was to relieve Life Time from liability for its ordinary negligence in operating its fitness club. Upon meeting the four Jones elements, the waiver was valid as a matter of law. Defendants were awarded costs.
This case illustrates the value of a waiver of liability. Although it was unclear as to how LTF was negligent, the waiver released LTF from all liability for ordinary negligence.