Woman Held to Waiver Signed by Husband in California Health Club Case

By Doyice Cotten

6168341677_b7ba513d05_zSheila Brown joined 24 Hour on February 27, 2001, signing the 24 Hour Fitness USA, Inc. membership agreement containing a liability waiver.  She terminated her membership several months later; then, after a few months her son renewed her membership through his corporate membership. Her husband signed the club waiver on her behalf.

Two years later, Sheila tripped over a dumbbell that had been left on the floor and suffered injury. She filed suit against 24 Hour and claimed the waiver was unenforceable because she had not signed the waiver. She produced evidence to that fact.(Brown v. 24 Hour Fitness USA, Inc., 2007 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 5643)

The court accepted the fact that Shiela’s husband had signed the waiver. It noted however that Shiela had signed an identically worded membership agreement containing an identically worded waiver just a few months earlier. She then worked out under the agreement signed by her husband on a number of occasions before suffering the injury and on each occasion, she accessed 24 Hour’s facilities by “displaying the membership agreement, or by using a membership card inscribed with language cautioning the user that the member was bound by the terms covered in the membership agreement.”

The court noted that Civil Code section 1589 provides, “A voluntary acceptance of the benefit of a transaction is equivalent to a consent to all the obligations arising from it, so far as the facts are known, or ought to be known, to the person accepting.”  The court ruled that

By accepting the benefits of the membership agreement, and using the health club, plaintiff became bound to the obligations set forth in the membership agreement to the extent she knew or should have known of them. Under the circumstances present here, we hold as a matter of law that even if plaintiff did not know the terms of the release in the second membership agreement, she constructively knew of them based upon her prior dealings, the nature of her membership, and her use of an access-granting membership contract or card that put her on notice of those terms.

The court affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment ruling in favor of 24 Hour.

Risk Management Concern

One should understand that one of the factors in this decision was the fact that the plaintiff had signed an identical waiver only a few months earlier and was or should have been familiar with the nature of her membership. If no previous waiver had been signed, the court might well have ruled the waiver unenforceable. So, from a risk management standpoint, providers should always have each party to a waiver sign the waiver himself or herself.

Photo Credit: Thanks to Nathaniel at Flickr.