Grebing v. 24 Hour Fitness – Waivers of Liability as Defense

Waivers aren’t just for parasailing and white water rafting. A growing number of gyms, spas and other facilities that might otherwise be deemed “low risk” are requiring patrons to sign a waiver agreeing to forfeit their right to legal action in the event of injury – even when the facility is unsafe or the staff negligent.
There are numerous misconceptions when it comes to liability waivers and releases. For a long time, there was the notion that waivers were not worth the paper upon which they were written. This is not true, as liability waivers can indeed limit the degree to which a plaintiff can collect damages for negligence, if not totally eliminate it in some cases.

However, neither is it true that liability waivers offer total protection to all service providers and facilities under every circumstance. Some of the limitations of waivers that can adversely affect their effectiveness include failure to adhere to certain language requirements, the existence of gross negligence, injury to a non-signing spouse and injuries involving children.

The question of whether waivers are effective depends heavily not only on the express language of the contract, but also on the state in which it is executed. Both North Carolina and South Carolina have moderate standards when it comes to enforcement of liability waivers.

California, meanwhile, where the recent case of target=”_blank”>Grebing v. 24 Hour Fitness USA, Inc. was heard by an appellate court, adheres to a strict standard of enforcement when it comes to liability waivers. This is likely whey plaintiff was unable to succeed in his injury lawsuit against a gym alleging unsafe equipment and failure to warn.

According to court records, plaintiff signed a liability waiver voluntarily agreeing to accept the risk of injury – from minor to severe, including catastrophic injury and death – arising out of use of the facilities or equipment. The liability included a portion indicating release of liability even in the event of facility’s negligence.

Approximately one year later, plaintiff was operating an exercise machine when a clip connecting a handlebar to approximately 240 pounds of weights snapped, causing the handlebar to break from the cable and strike plaintiff in the head.

Testimony revealed equipment was inspected daily, but it was not on this particular day. However, 10 minutes prior to the incident, a fellow patron informed gym management the clip on this particular machine appeared to be “crooked.” Staff had not yet addressed the alleged problem when plaintiff began using the machine.

Plaintiff sued for negligence, negligent products liability, strict product liability and breach of implied warranty of merchantability.

Defendant countered the waiver released it from liability on counts 1, 2 and 4, and that it could not be held responsible on count 3 because it was not in the machine’s chain of distribution.

Trial court agreed, and appellate court affirmed. At primary issue was the fact plaintiff failed to prove defendant was grossly negligent, which in that state, given the valid waiver, was the only way he could have overcome the existence of the release.

Every case is going to be different, and states apply differing standards to this issue. Consult with an experienced Spartanburg injury lawyer to learn more about the compensation options available in your case.

Contact the South Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Grebing v. 24 Hour Fitness USA, Inc., Feb. 19, 2015, California Court of Appeals, Second Appellate District, Division Three

More Blog Entries:
Key v. Diamond International Trucks – $3.5 Million Injury Verdict Upheld, Feb. 8, 2015, Spartanburg Injury Lawyer Blog

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