No More Bling

by

Guivi v. Spectrum Club (California – UNPUBLISHED)
(A health club member had jewelry allegedly stolen from a locker while she was receiving a message; the court found that the membership application with waiver and release and assumption of the risk language precluded her claim for negligence; no evidence of gross negligence was established.)

The plaintiff had valuable jewelry stolen from her gym locker while she was getting a message. She sued the health club for negligence in providing facilities and for negligently training staff for the security of her property. The health club moved for summary judgment based on the membership application agreement with waiver and release language that the plaintiff signed with the health club. The application also specifically included language warning the plaintiff about loss or theft of her property, and expressly stated that the health club was not responsible for lost or stolen articles. According to the agreement, the lockers were offered to the member without any representation that they will be effective in protecting valuables. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the Court ruled that the membership agreement unambiguously released the facility from its negligence and was not contrary to public policy. The Court did not accept plaintiff’s argument that agreements involving health clubs are matters of public interest. Further, the court noted that there was no alleged violation of law. Additionally, the Court did not accept the plaintiff’s argument that there was the potential for gross negligence or that the health club failed to deal with a known theft problem. No evidence had been presented in that regard.

NOTE: The ruling in this case is consistent with California law which provides that broad releases of liability will be enforced in this context, including with regard to ordinary premises liability claims as opposed to injury or damage that occurs directly as the result of participation in hazardous recreational activities. Had there been an obvious track record of items being stolen from members or a repeated pattern of a complete lack of security on the part of the health club, this case may have proceeded to trial on the factual issue of whether the facility engaged in grossly negligent conduct.

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