Every once in a while as a Los Angeles accident attorney, I’ll be asked some variation of this question by friends and clients. The question is usually posed to me when a colleague is all fired up with a newfound commitment to hitting the gym. We all know that gym membership requires one to sign a release of liability. The question is, are these releases valid and enforceable under California law?
A pair of recent California Court of Appeal cases might answer this question.
Back in January, the Court discussed this issue in Jimenez v. 24 Hour Fitness. Ms. Jimenez was a member of 24 Hour Fitness, and was injured when she fell off a treadmill and hit her head on an adjacent piece of metal exercise equipment. She suffered serious injuries. She sued 24 Hour Fitness, and the gym defended on the grounds that Ms. Jimenez signed a release of liability when she enrolled in her gym membership.
After a lengthy analysis, the Court noted that a release can only absolve a party from ordinary negligence; it cannot absolve a party from liability for gross negligence.
What’s the difference between the two? The Court explained that ordinary negligence is a failure to exercise the degree of care that a reasonable person under similar circumstances would employ to protect others from harm. Gross negligence, on the other hand, is an extreme departure from reasonable conduct.
Another case that recently dealt with this issue is Chavez v. 24 Hour Fitness. In this case, which was just published yesterday, the Court added that “gross negligence connotes such a lack of care as may be presumed to indicate passive and indifferent attitude towards results.” [citing Eriksson v. Nunnink (2011) 191 Cal.App.4th 826, 857]
Both the Jimenez and Chavez cases emphasized that finding gross negligence is a very detailed factual determination that must be decided by a jury.
The takeaway is that, yes, signing a release at the gym (or anywhere else for that matter) is valid and enforceable to relieve a party for ordinary negligence. It does not, however, absolve one for gross negligence.
For questions about your case, the Rabbi Lawyer is always here to assist.