Liability Waivers Help LA Fitness Win Injury Lawsuit

Signed liability waivers were the deciding factors for a federal judge who, last Wednesday, dismissed a personal injury lawsuit against LA Fitness and parent entity Fitness & Sports Clubs LLC.

Plaintiff Patricia Evans, 63, filed a negligence suit against LA Fitness last year after falling and fracturing her wrists at one of the chain's Philadelphia-area clubs in November 2014. Evans' injury occurred while she was performing "suicide runs"—repeatedly sprinting and backpedaling between two points—under the supervision of personal trainer Brandon McElwee. According to court reports, she fell after McElwee encouraged her to go "faster, faster."

Evans alleged she sustained nerve damage that has since hindered her day-to-day routines.

However, U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody awarded summary judgment to LA Fitness after the company produced a three-page membership agreement and three-page personal training agreement and release of liability, both signed by Evans.

The second page of the membership agreement states: "You hereby acknowledge and agree that use by Member and/ or Member's minor children of LA Fitness' facilities, services, equipment or premises, involves risks of injury to persons and property, including those described below, and Member assumes full responsibility for such risks. … Member hereby releases and holds LA Fitness, its directors, officers, employees and agents harmless from all liability to Member."

On both agreements, Evans' signatures follow "acknowledgement and assumption of risk" paragraphs, which Brody ruled were exculpatory in nature and protect LA Fitness from liability. According to the court order, an LA Fitness representative discussed the agreements with Evans prior to her signing. Evans said in a statement that she "looked at" the pertinent agreement language but "didn't actually review it."

"The Membership Agreement and the Personal Training Agreement with LA Fitness are not contracts of adhesion because they are contracts to participate in voluntary recreational activities," Brody said in the order. "Evans was under no compulsion to exercise at a gym and to participate in personal training sessions. … The exculpatory clauses are facially valid."

LA Fitness attorney Norman Briggs told last week, "LA Fitness does not want to see its patrons be injured, but at the same time they do recognize that some people can be injured through some sort of exercise and hence the clauses."

A lack of liability waivers proved critical in another recent personal injury lawsuit involving CrossFit Inc., where a Missouri jury ordered the company and its affiliate gym to pay an injured member $200,000 in damages.

The damages Evans sought were not determined or not disclosed in court documents. Her attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

LA Fitness ranked No. 1 on Club Industry's Top 100 Health Clubs of 2016, topping Life Time Fitness and 24 Hour Fitness—No. 3 and No. 2, respectively—with an estimated 2015 revenue of $1.912 billion.