In a recent court of appeals case, Grebing v. 24 Hour Fitness USA, Inc., Cal. Ct. App. (2015), the court had before it the issue of whether to hold liable a health and fitness club for an injury that occurred when a piece of weight-lifting equipment broke and struck the individual who was using it.
When he initially became a member of the club, the plaintiff signed an assumption of risk liability waiver. The waiver contained language stating that 24 Hour would not be liable for any injuries or other harm sustained by the signer, and also that the gym was not responsible for any issues with the equipment, including any products liability claims. Essentially, it attempted to broadly insulate the gym from any sort of liability related to injuries sustained on the premises. The plaintiff signed the waiver a second time when he subsequently upgraded his membership.
There was a woman at the gym who apparently reported safety issues to the gym on a regular basis. She had reportedly complained on at least one prior occasion about the use of clips not being readily available for all of the machines. On the day of the incident, she had reported that the clip in the machine that the plaintiff was going to use was crooked. The plaintiff’s injury occurred approximately 15 minutes later.
The injury occurred when the plaintiff was using a rowing machine. He increased the weights, and apparently the cable to the machine snapped, causing the bar to hit the plaintiff in the face, causing him injuries to his head, back, and neck.
The plaintiff filed suit, challenging the release of liability on the grounds that his claim was based on the gross negligence of the gym in not addressing the purportedly inadequate equipment, and furthermore that, since the gym was reportedly in the chain of distribution of the equipment, it was liable for the equipment failure.
24 Hour filed a motion for summary judgment, citing its waiver removing liability for negligence. It argued that, regarding the claim of gross negligence, the plaintiff “failed to submit evidence that demonstrates an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of care or a want of even scant care.” The trial court granted the motion and entered judgment on the gym’s behalf. The plaintiff appealed.
The Court of Appeals found that the waiver was a valid release from liability for negligence, citing specific cases regarding liability waivers for health clubs.
Next, regarding the woman’s report of the clip appearing to be misaligned, the court found that the 15-minute period that elapsed between her report and the injury did not support a finding of gross negligence. It also discussed the fact that 24 Hour had a maintenance technician who regularly inspected the equipment for any potential safety issues.
Lastly, regarding the alleged liability for the equipment, the court found that the club’s primary purpose was to provide health club services, and that under California law, “a defendant cannot be liable based on products liability if the dominant purpose of the defendant’s transaction with the plaintiff was providing services rather than supplying a product.” Therefore, 24 Hour could not be held liable on that basis either.
Thus, the lower court’s judgment in granting summary judgment on behalf of the defendant was affirmed.
There is an important point to be made regarding this case, and that is that the plaintiff may have had a claim against the manufacturer of the allegedly defective piece of exercise equipment. The plaintiff could potentially have brought a separate lawsuit in order to recover damages for the injuries he suffered as a result of the cable snapping.
The Riverside premises liability lawyers at Sharifi Firm, PLC, have years of experience gathering evidence for these cases and recovering damages on behalf of injured plaintiffs. We represent accident victims in San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, and Temecula. Contact us at 1-866-422-7222 or via our online form for a free, no-obligation consultation.
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