Cox v. US Fitness, LLC – Summary judgment in favor of gym operator upheld due to valid exculpatory clause signed by Plaintiff

Cox v. US Fitness LLC, 2013 IL App (1st) 122442 (Hyman)

Facts:  Plaintiff joins a gym and signs a waiver acknowledging the risks of injury associated with the gym membership, including equipment and fitness advisory services.  Later, she buys a personal training fitness package and while jumping onto risers that were set by her trainer at 18″ high, they collapsed and caused her to fall and seriously injure her wrist.  The defendant moved for summary judgment on the basis of the signed waiver and the trial court dismissed the case.  Plaintiff appeals.

Holding:  Summary judgment in favor of defendant was proper because the plaintiff’s personal training sessions fell within “fitness advisory services” and therefore were contemplated within the valid waiver signed by plaintiff.  Also, the inability of the defendant to produce the supplemental contract for personal training services, which was arguably a technical violation of the Physical Fitness Services Act requiring the gym to maintain original copies for 3 years, did not serve to create a question of fact as to a valid contract modification that would invalidate the waiver because plaintiff failed to produce specimen copy and was merely speculating on its impact.

Filed in Trial Book Under:  Gyms/Health Clubs, Exculpatory Clauses, Waiver of Liability, Unconscionability

Commentary:  No big surprise here.  Exculpatory clauses within the context of injuries at gyms and health clubs have long been deemed valid and not against public policy.  The injury suffered by the plaintiff clearly fell within the type of occurrence that would be contemplated in the release.

Useful Rules/Language from the Opinion:

Exculpatory Clauses/Waiver of Liabilty:  “The precise occurrence that results in injury *** need not have been contemplated by the parties at the time of contracting.” Id. “The injury must only fall within the scope of possible dangers ordinarily accompanying the activity and, therefore, reasonably contemplated by the parties.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Hamer v. City Segway Tours of Chicago, LLC, 402 Ill. App. 3d 42, 45 (2010).

Unconscionability:  Whether a contract is unconscionable is a matter of law. Razor v. Hyundai Motor America, 222 Ill. 2d 75, 99 (2006). The courts recognize two types of unconscionability: (i) “procedural unconscionability” occurs where “a term is so difficult to find, read, or understand that the plaintiff cannot fairly be said to have been aware he was agreeing to it, and also takes into account a lack of bargaining power;” and (ii) “substantive unconscionability refers to those terms which are inordinately one-sided in one party’s favor.”  To determine procedural unconscionability, courts consider: (i) the manner in which the contract was entered into; (ii) whether each party had a reasonable opportunity to understand the terms of the contract; and (iii) whether important terms were hidden in a maze of fine print. Frank’s Maintenance & Engineering, Inc. v. C.A. Roberts Co., 86 Ill. App. 3d 980, 989-90 (1980).

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Filed under Negligence

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