In Vinson v. LA Fitness, plaintiff Vinson signed a gym membership agreement with LA Fitness which contained an exculpatory clause releasing LA Fitness from LA’s “passive or active negligence” to the fullest extent permitted by law. During her deposition, Vinson claimed she had not read the entire agreement and did not notice the exculpatory clause. LA Fitness moved for summary judgment, relying on the exculpatory clause to bar any recovery for Vinson. The trial court granted summary judgment based upon the exculpatory clause.
On appeal, Vinson argued that the exculpatory clause in the contract violated public policy. Specifically, she contended that her cause of action involved maintenance of facilities, which impacts the health and safety of members of the public. LA Fitness countered by arguing that the exculpatory clause was a contract between two private parties, thus not implicating the public. Additionally, LA Fitness argued that a generalized consideration of public interest was insufficient to void a contract based upon public policy. Rather, public policy exceptions to exculpatory clauses include only a narrow subset of situations, predominately involving direct legal precedent and reference to existing laws. The appellate court agreed with LA Fitness, noting that “mere suppositions of public interest” are insufficient to invalidate contractual provisions, while specifically noting that the lack of supporting legal precedent or statute was also fatal to Vinson’s case.
Thanks to Matt Care for his contribution to this post and please write to Mike Bono for more information.