Doyice Cotten summarizes four recent cases involving health clubs. The first three are appellate cases from Minnesota and the fourth is a New Jersey Supreme Court case. These cases re-emphasize the importance of unambiguous waivers. One might say that two of the three Minnesota cases involve gross negligence or willful and wanton actions, but the court did not agree. Actions resulting in injury are not often deemed grossly negligent, reckless, or willful and wanton by the courts. This high threshold further increases the value of well-written liability waivers. It is worth noting that the health club prevailed in each case — thanks to their waivers.
Waltz v. Life Time Fitness, Inc.
Waltz was injured in the sauna when the floor shifted creating a hole that caused him to trip and fall. He alleged the floor of the sauna was constructed in such a way as to create a hazard and had complained to management regularly about the situation. Plaintiff had signed a liability waiver releasing Life Time Fitness from liability for injuries resulting from its ordinary negligence. The appellate court ruled that other than the fact that plaintiff had notified the club often of the alleged hazard, they presented no evidence of willful or wanton conduct. The court affirmed the trial court summary judgment ruling. Click here for the entire case.
Resnick v. Life Time Fitness, Inc.
Marvin Resnick was injured when he slipped and fell while playing racquetball. He sued Life Time Fitness alleging his fall was caused by dust from construction work on the court floor. Resnick had signed a waiver releasing the club from liability for inherent risks and club negligence. The court stated that it is settled Minnesota law that “parties to a contract may, without violation of public policy protect themselves against liability resulting from their own negligence.” It went on to say that health club waivers are enforceable unless the action 1) was willful, wanton, or intentional, 2) the clause was ambiguous, or 3) there was disparity in bargaining power or involved an essential service. In this case, the waiver was enforced and the club was not liable for the injury. Click here for the entire case.
Johnson v. Fit Pro d/b/a Gold’s Gym
When Johnson stepped on the bench in the sauna, a board slipped or rotated causing Johnson to fall and suffer injury. Johnson sued alleging Gold’s Gym knew or should have known of the unsafe condition of the bench, of which Johnson was not aware. Fit Pro moved for summary judgment on the basis of a waiver signed by the plaintiff. In court, it was determined that other members had informed management of the hazard with the benches. The court ruled the waiver was enforceable and was in effect at the time of the injury, and thereby, precluded recovery by Johnson. It is worthy of note that the waiver language included “. . . Club’s negligent inspection or maintenance of its facility.” Click here for the entire case.
Stelluti v. Casapenn Enterprises d/b/a Powerhouse Gym
Gina Stelluti was injured while participating in a spinning class at a private fitness center when the handlebars on her spin bike dislodged from the bike causing her to fall. The New Jersey Supreme Court addressed the issue of the enforceability of an exculpatory agreement executed in a commercial setting involving membership in an exercise facility and involving no violation of any statutory or regulatory legal duty owed by the facility. The court stated that the agreement was a contract of adhesion, but was not unconscionable and did not involve a statutory duty. The court addressed unequal bargaining power and public interest before ruling that the waiver was enforceable. Click here for the entire case.