Legal Workout – Fitness Club Defends Negligence, Gross Negligence, Products Claims (CA)

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24 hour fitness logoGrebing v. 24 Hour Fitness USA, Inc. (California)

In 2012, a member of a 24 Hour Fitness facility in La Mirada, California was injured while using a “low row” machine during a workout.  The clip holding the weight on the machine failed, causing the machine’s handlebar to strike the plaintiff in the forehead and allegedly causinghead, back, and neck injuries.  Plaintiff filed a complaint against the fitness facility for (1) negligence, (2) negligent products liability, (3) strict products liability, and (4) breach of implied warranty of merchantability.

The fitness facility moved for summary judgment, or in the alternative summary adjudication.  The trial court granted the motion and the plaintiff appealed.  The Court of Appeal affirmed the decision finding that the release of liability and assumption of the risk found in the facility membership agreements signed by the plaintiff barred the ordinary negligence claims, as well as the breach of warranty claim.  The Court acknowledged that the release of liability could not exculpate the defendant from gross negligence liability, but the Court found that the plaintiff had, as a matter of law, failed to demonstrate “want of even scant care or an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct” that was needed to establish gross negligence liability.

The Court also noted that the releases of liability cannot protect a party from strict product liability.  However, the Court explained that “a defendant cannot be liable based on products liability if the dominant purpose of the defendant’s transaction with the plaintiff was providing services rather than supplying a product.”  The Court agreed that the defendant fitness facility’s dominant purpose was providing a service to its members, which included access to machines that it did not manufacture.

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