An appellate court in California ruled in Chavez v. 24 Hour Fitness USA that plaintiff had the met the minimum standard of proof for gross negligence necessary to overcome summary judgment favoring the defense in a case where plaintiff had previously signed a waiver of liability.
That waiver of liability indicated plaintiff agreed to hold the gym harmless for any injury she may suffer as a result of gym employees’ negligence. Gym argued this was an absolute defense. However, if plaintiff could show gym acted with gross negligence (as opposed to ordinary negligence), she could overcome this assertion and proceed to trial.
This is generally the case in most states, even those that more often tend to uphold waivers of liability.
Gross negligence can mean different things in different jurisdictions.
In California, where this case took place, it is accepted to mean – above and beyond the ordinary negligence standard of duty to plaintiff, breach of duty, causation of injury and damages – the “want of even scant care” or “an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.”
Similarly, as our Spartanburg injury lawyers can explain, in South Carolina, ordinary negligence is the failure to exercise reasonable care, gross negligence is a conscious and voluntary disregard for reasonable care, such that it’s likely to cause foreseeable serious injury or harm to someone else.
In addition to the fact this more serious standard of negligence is needed to overcome summary judgment for defendants in cases involving liability waivers, it may also entitle plaintiff to punitive damages, which are intended to punish defendant and deter similar future conduct.
In the Chavez case, plaintiff was injured when the back panel of a cable crossover machine (a cross-trainer) struck her in the head while she was working out. As a result of that blow to the head, she suffers from periodic lapses of consciousness, major headaches, sensitivity to light, poor memory, stuttering, dizziness, nausea, decrease in appetite, changes to her ability to taste and smell and personality changes that have interfered with her work and marriage.
Her lawsuit against the gym alleged ordinary and gross negligence, premises liability and products liability. The products liability claim was later dropped because the gym was not in the chain of distribution for the machine.
However, the question of gross negligence became central because without that finding, the case would be dropped because she had signed a waiver of liability releasing the gym from instances of ordinary negligence.
Trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defense, but the appellate court reversed.
Appeals court noted when reviewed in light most favorable to plaintiff (as necessary in determining whether summary judgment was proper), there was a triable issue of fact as to whether the gym was grossly negligent. In support of this assertion, trial court noted evidence that manufacturer instructions of machine care indicated preventative maintenance needed to take place regularly. Despite defense testimony from other patrons indicating staffers were “always wondering around, checking on equipment” or responding to complaints, there was no clear evidence indicating this machine was serviced, either in the week leading up to the accident or even in the months prior. In fact, a preventative maintenance log kept by the company, which should have indicated dates the machine was serviced, was blank.
The last notation on that piece of equipment indicated it needed service to the back panel, but there was no indication that work was ever performed. Even if club members saw maintenance being performed on some machines, that didn’t prove there was regular preventative maintenance being performed or the extent of those repairs.
Contact our Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.
Chavez v. 24 Hour Fitness USA, July 8, 2015, California Court of Appeal, Sixth Appellate District
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