Gym release protects it from liability unless there is gross negligence

A California court has ruled 24 Hour Fitness’ release protects it from liability when a member injures himself while using gym equipment as long as it was not grossly negligent in the maintenance of that equipment.

Timothy Grebing was using the low row machine at the 24 Hour Fitness in La Mirada.  As Grebing pulled the handlebar, a clip that connected the handlebar to a cable that was attached to the weights failed, causing the handlebar to break free from the cable and striking Grebing in the forehead.  As a result, Grebing said he suffered head, back, and neck injuries.

Grebing signed 24 Hour Fitness’ release, which like most releases of this type states that 24 Hour will not be liable for any injury resulting from the negligence of 24 Hour.  The low row machine was ordinarily inspected twice a day.  15 minutes before Grebing’s injury, another 24 Hour member noticed a problem with a similar clip on a different machine and reported that to 24 Hour.  There was evidence that perhaps the wrong type of clip was used on the low row machine.

Based on this, the court found the release was valid to protect 24 Hour.  Ordinary negligence is a failure to take reasonable care to protect others from harm.  Gross negligence is “such a lack of care as may be presumed to indicate a passive and indifferent attitude results.”  The release said Grebing would not hold 24 Hour liable for ordinary negligence.  Even if Grebing’s injuries were caused by a failure to properly maintain the low row machine, 24 Hour demonstrated that it took some steps to keep the low row machine safe with its twice a day inspection.  Also, if 24 Hour did use the wrong type of clip, that would indicate ordinary negligence vs. gross negligence.  In addition, there was no notice that the low row machine itself was not working properly before Grebing’s injuries.  Therefore, the court found there was insufficient evidence to find 24 Hour was grossly negligent to have a trial and therefore judgment was entered for 24 Hour.

So, in California when signing a typical release before doing physical activity, you should not expect to find the facility or operator responsible for injuries caused during the activity unless you can prove gross negligence.

For more on this case, see this article from a health club industry publication and click here for the court’s full opinion on this case.

© 2015, LT Pacific Law Group LLP. All rights reserved.

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