By Doyice Cotten
In Chavez v. 24 Hour Fitness USA, Inc. (2015), Stacey Chavez was injured when the back panel of a “FreeMotion” cable crossover machine (“cross trainer”) struck her in the head. She subsequently filed suit. The machine was still in service despite a missing bracket and missing magnetic strips that were to secure the back panel.
24 Hour Fitness claimed it was not liable because she had signed a waiver of liability – a complete defense against negligence claims. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the health club, however the appellate court reversed the ruling, holding that there was a triable issue of fact as to whether the defendant was guilty of gross negligence. In California, as in most states, a waiver of liability cannot protect a defendant from liability for acts constituting gross negligence.
The club argued that plaintiffs could not show an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of care – a requirement for showing gross negligence [which is often defined as the failure to exercise even scant care]. The club stated that it employed a technician to routinely inspect and perform preventative maintenance on the equipment.
The technician was tasked with performing monthly preventative maintenance on each piece of exercise equipment. He was to follow and complete the preventative maintenance chart provided. According to the regional representative of the health club, the chart showed that the technician would have been responsible for performing preventative maintenance on the cross-trainer during the week of Feb. 7 – a task involving the removal of the panel, inspection of the interior, and repair if needed. The 24 Hour regional manager testified there was nothing in the preventative maintenance chart to indicate that someone actually performed the required maintenance. The logs were all blank. The technician that worked at the club when the injury occurred could not be located.
A supplier of fitness equipment testified that the rear panel is to be removed weekly for inspection and maintenance. A decal states that all interior cables and straps should be inspected weekly. Members testified that machines were frequently out of use and in need of repair. They stated they had seen cables break.
The appellate court stated that evidence indicated that preventative maintenance was not performed by 24 Hour and that 24 Hour conduct regarding preventive maintenance was grossly negligent. Evidence indicated that the defendant conduct involved either a “a want of even scant care” or “an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.” The case was sent back to the trial court for further action.
The best thing you could say about the company was that they did have inspection forms; unfortunately, management failed to put any emphasis on the maintenance and failed to see that the inspections were performed … hence, the blank forms. The company did seem to take steps to repair equipment once it broke, but in this case, that was a day late and a dollar short.
Photo Credit: Thanks to Victoria Herring for the photo on Flickr.