By Doyice Cotten
Lataya Young was working out on an Ab Coaster (not pictured) at a Planet Fitness when a weight landed on her foot. Apparently a weight had fallen from the machine while she performed repetitions. She had previously signed the following waiver of liability:
“I understand and expressly agree that my use of this Planet Fitness facility involves the risk of injury to me, whether caused by me or not. I understand that these risks are inherent in physical activity and my use of the facilities, and can range from minor injuries to major injuries, including death. In consideration of my participation in the activities and use of the facilities, exercise equipment, and services offered by Planet Fitness, I understand and voluntarily accept full responsibility for the risk of injury or loss arising out of or related to my use of the facilities including, without limitation, exercise equipment, tanning, massage beds/chairs, and participation in PE@PF or other exercise programs or use of other services, equipment and/or programs offered to members. I further agree that Pla-Fit Franchise LLC, the owner(s) of this Planet Fitness, their respective affiliated companies, parents, subsidiaries and the officers, directors, shareholders, employees, managers, members, agents and independent contractors of each such entity (‘Releasees’) will not be liable for any injury including, without limitation, personal, bodily, or mental injury, disability, death, economic loss or any damage to me, my spouse or domestic partner, unborn child, heirs, or relatives resulting from the negligent conduct or omission of Releasees, or anyone acting on their behalf, whether related to exercise or not. Accordingly, to the fullest extent permitted by law, I do hereby forever release, waive, and discharge Releasees from any and all claims, demands, injuries, damages, actions or causes of action related to my use of the facilities (collectively, ‘Claims’) against Releasees, or anyone acting on their behalf, and hereby agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless Releasees from and against any such Claims. I further understand and acknowledge that none of the Releasees manufactures fitness or other equipment or products available in its facilities and therefore Releasees will not be held liable for defective equipment or products.
I have read and agree to the terms and conditions above and I agree that my electronic signature below is intended to have the same force and effect as a manual signature.”
Lataya filed suit against the Planet Fitness alleging premises liability and products liability. She did not allege gross negligence. Based on the waiver and the evidence presented, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Planet Fitness.
Lataya appealed the judgment alleging the waiver was unconscionable and made a late claim that Planet Fitness was grossly negligent (Young v. Planet Health Fitness LLC, Cal., 2022).
The appellate court stated that a written waiver is an express assumption of the risk by the plaintiff and negates the defendant’s duty of care. It applies to any ordinary negligence of the defendant that is reasonably related to the purpose for which the waiver was intended. The court went on to explain that waivers for recreational sports or exercise facilities are generally valid, but made it clear that the language must be “clear, unambiguous, and explicit in expressing the intent of the subscribing parties.”
The court noted the similarity between this waiver and other waivers that have been enforced by previous California courts. The court pointed out the clear and specific language used in the waiver: “I further agree that … Planet Fitness,… will not be liable for any injury including, without limitation, personal, bodily, or mental injury, disability, death, economic loss or any damage to me, … resulting from the negligent conduct or omission of Releasees, or anyone acting on their behalf, whether related to exercise or not.”
The court addressed the issue of unconscionability of the waiver, stating that there are two types of unconscionability – both of which must be present. It defined Procedural Unconscionability as relating to the making of the agreement. It focuses on oppression of the weaker party from unequal bargaining power caused by hidden terms or lack of informed choice. Lataya stated that no party in their right mind would have signed the document. She claimed the language was not on the screen when she signed it. The court stated that failing to see or read the waiver was irrelevant.
The court also defined Substantive Unconscionability as the one-sidedness of the document; so one-sided that it shocks the conscience of the reader. The court pointed out that the plaintiff failed to show one-sidedness when the plaintiff was able to use the facility free of charge; further, failed to explain why a business could not require a waiver in exchange for the use of a private facility.
Interestingly, the plaintiff tried to claim that the action evidenced gross negligence. No such complaint was made in the original claim. Regardless, the court distinguished between gross negligence and ordinary negligence and made clear that there was no gross negligence.
The court did not accept the claims of the “expert witness.” The witness proclaimed that safety inspections should be performed every 30-60 minutes, but failed to provide any industry standard supporting that claim. The witness made other statements that failed to lend credence to the claim of the plaintiff.
It should come as no surprise that the court affirmed the ruling of the trial court in favor of Planet Fitness.
Photo Credit: Thanks to Tyler Read via Flickr.