Court: Liability Waiver Does Not Bar Health Club from Negligence Claim

October 12, 2007

A California Court of Appeal has ruled that a health club’s liability release does not bar someone from asserting a negligence claim.

In Yoko Zipusch v. LA Workout Inc., Zipusch signed LA Workout’s “membership agreement” in October 2004 that contained an identifiable assumption of risk in using the facility. The agreement stipulated that LA Workout would “not be liable for injury, including without limitation, personal, bodily or mental injury, economic loss or damage to you, your spouses, guests, unborn child, or relatives resulting from the negligence or other acts of anyone else using LA Workout.” The agreement also noted the member would defend LA Workout against claims and pay for expenses related to any claims, indemnify the facility for all liabilities and negligence, except the sole negligence of the club.

In December of that year, Zipusch allegedly sustained injuries when her foot became stuck to a sticky substance on one of the health club’s treadmills, causing her to lose her balance and suffer injuries. She filed a complaint against the club for general negligence and premises liability, alleging its failure to inspect and maintain the exercise equipment.

Northridge GG Inc., which purchased LA Workout pursuant to bankruptcy proceedings, answered the complaint and moved for summary judgment, arguing the release provision of the membership agreement exculpated the health club from the claim.

Yet Zipusch argued the release only barred claims against the health club caused by a negligent third party and noted the release contained ambiguity, which should be construed against the club, which was the drafter of the release.

The Appeals Court noted summary judgment should be used only when no triable issue of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Thus, it said the trial court improperly granted summary judgment because the risk section of the agreement did not contemplate the club from its own negligence. The court further noted that LA Workout did not, as many other health clubs have done, remove its preexisting duty to not enhance the inherent risks of exercising at a health club. Furthermore, a club employee testified that the undersides of treadmill belts are not routinely inspected, creating evidence that a reasonable trier of fact could find the health club negligently inspected and maintained its exercise equipment.

As such, the Appeals Court reversed the lower court’s motion for summary judgment, and remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.

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