Woodland Hills personal injury lawyer Barry P. Goldberg is consulted for many very serious injuries sometimes related to fairly dangerous activities and others rather routine. More and more, we are seeing a signed “Release of All Liability” which may bar all recovery for injuries caused by dangerous equipment, negligent employees and negligent co-participants. Most commonly, this occurs in connection with gyms and work out facilities.
In a recent case certified for publication, a seriously injured gym-goer challenged 24 Hour Fitness’ General Release. (Jimenez v. 24 Hour Fitness USA, Inc. (3rd App. Dist. June 9, 2015). The action arose out of injuries sustained while exercising at a 24 Hour facility in Sacramento, California. Plaintiff’s expert opined that plaintiff fell backwards off of a moving treadmill and sustained severe head injuries when she hit her head on the exposed steel foot of a leg exercise machine that 24 Hour placed approximately three feet ten inches behind the treadmill in direct violation of the manufacturer’s specifications.
The trial court granted 24 Hour’s motion for summary judgment finding the release enforceable and that there was no “gross negligence to take it outside the scope of the Release. With respect to the gross negligence argument, the court was persuaded by 24 Hour’s argument that, as a matter of law, a space of three to four feet as opposed to the recommended six-foot safety zone cannot constitute gross negligence, because “it does not reflect an ‘extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.’ ” The court reasoned that 24 Hour’s “placement of the treadmill constitutes at most, ordinary negligence.”
While the issue of whether there has been gross negligence is generally a triable issue of fact, the Court of Appeal recognized that such is not always the case. However, in a recent case involving 24 Hour, the court of appeal affirmed summary judgment grounded in part on the trial court’s determination that there was no triable issue of fact as to gross negligence. (Grebing v. 24 Hour Fitness USA, Inc. (2015) 234 Cal.App.4th 631, 639)
In this case, unlike in Grebing where there was no notice, 24 Hour knew it was violating the manufacturer’s express safety directions when it deliberately arranged the gym equipment without providing a six-foot safety zone for the treadmills. The Court held that it can be inferred that 24 Hour did so for the purpose of placing more machines into its facility to accommodate more members to make more money. Accordingly, it raised a triable issue of fact justifying the reversal of the summary judgment.
Seriously injured participants require immediate investigation an advice from an experienced attorney to determine whether a release signed in relative haste bars an action against the responsible parties.