Recently, in Vinson v. Fitness International LLC., a Pennsylvania court evaluated whether release and waiver language found in a membership agreement shielded a fitness center from liability when a member slipped and fell at the fitness center.
Plaintiff fell over a wet and worn floor mat at was injured. Prior to joining, plaintiff signed a membership agreement that stated that a member acknowledges that they gave up any claim or demand due to injury, whether by active or passive negligence on the part of the fitness center. The notice introducing the release was in bold and capital print.
Defendant sought summary judgment arguing: (1) Plaintiff could not demonstrate that Defendants created or had notice of the condition; (2) Plaintiff identified no expert and expert testimony was required for Plaintiff to meet her burden; and (3) upon signing the membership agreement and joining the fitness center, Plaintiff executed a valid waiver of all future claims of negligence.
In response to this argument, Plaintiff alleged that the waiver was void as against public policy. The court turned to prior decisions addressing the validity of a waiver clauses, namely Evans v. Fitness & Sports Clubs, LLC. In that case, the court determined that a waiver of liability only violates public policy if it involves a matter of interest to the public or the state, including matters involving an employer-employee relationship, public service, public utilities, common carriers, and hospitals.
In the Evan case, the court determined that the agreement at issue in that case related solely to the private affairs of those parties and did not affect a matter of interest to the public or the state, and therefore did not contravene public policy. After reviewing the law and applying the facts at hand, the Vinson court decided the waiver clause was identical to clauses that the court previously ruled on, and found the waiver in this case to be valid and enforceable. The court granted summary judgment based solely upon Defendant’s claim that Plaintiff executed a valid waiver of all future claims of negligence when she signed the membership agreement and joined the club.
Thanks to Chelsea Rendelman for her contribution to this post and please write to Michael Bono with any questions.