She Got Hosed

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Jones v. Loews Santa Monica Hotel, Inc. (California-NOT PUBLISHED)
(Health Club Member Tripped and Fell on Hose Trying to Access Club; Waiver and Release Barred Premises Liability)

The plaintiff joined a health club located in the defendant hotel. In order to join, she was required to (and did) sign a membership agreement that included waiver and release language exculpating the hotel from liability. Thereafter, plaintiff was walking on a sidewalk on the hotel premises to gain access to the health club when she tripped and fell on a hose, suffering personal injury. She filed a lawsuit against the hotel for general negligence and premises liability. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based upon the waiver and release language found in the membership agreement. The trial court granted the motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

Paragraph 7 of the agreement was entitled “Waiver of Liability.” It initially recited that plaintiff “acknowledges and understands that [she] is using the facilities and services of the HOTEL and SPA at [her] own risk.” It continued: “The SPA and HOTEL … shall not be liable-and the MEMBER hereby expressly waives any claim of liability-for personal/bodily injury or damages-which occur to any MEMBER, or any guest of any MEMBER, or for any loss of or injury to person or property. This waiver includes, but is not limited to any loss, damage or destruction of the personal property of the MEMBER or the MEMBERS’ guest(s) and is intended to be a complete release of any responsibility for personal injuries and/or property loss/damage sustained by any MEMBER or any guest of any MEMBER while on the HOTEL and/or SPA premises, whether using exercise equipment or not.”

Reviewing that language, the court stated that its task was “unusually straightforward” based on prior published case law. In Benedek v. PLC Santa Monica(2002), the court reviewed an identical waiver and release, also in the context of a health spa member injured as a result of a condition on the premises. The plaintiff in sustained injuries when an overhead television set slide of its rack as he tried to adjust it. The Benedekplaintiff had not yet begun to exercise, yet the court ruled that the waiver and release barred his claim.

The Jones court concluded that the waiver and release did not implicate public policy, and that it applied broadly to any negligent act of the defendant facility. The alleged act of negligence was reasonably related to the purpose for which the waiver and release was given. The document explicitly applied to liability whether or not the plaintiff was actively using equipment in the facility. As such, the court affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

NOTE: This case is consistent with California law, which allows a properly drafted waiver and release agreement to broadly protect against premises liability. California facilities should be mindful of the potentially significant protections that these types of agreements can provide if they are drafted clearly and properly and are presented effectively.

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