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  • YOU MAY “ASSUME THE RISK” AT YOUR HEALTH CLUB FOR “ORDINARY” NEGLIGENCE

    This week’s question:
    I have been looking at a health club to join and really get in shape. However, each one that I have visited requires a long legal document that I need to sign, including my assumption of risk of injury at the club. Is this legal? Can they require me to sign such a document? Do you know of any way around that?
    /s/ Jack J.
    Almaden Valley

    Dear Jack—
    Sorry you have had problems with the legal documents they asked you to sign, Jack, since good workouts and good health are so important for all of us.
    The short answer to one of your questions above is that such a document may be proper from a legal perspective. Of course, if you will not sign any kind of proper legal document under any circumstances you can take your business elsewhere.
    The Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District in southern California was faced with a release in a recent case. In that case, a member at a health club signed the club’s standard form of release when he joined the club.
    The release stated in part: “Using the 24 Hour Fitness USA, Inc. (24 Hour) facilities involves the risk of injury to you or your guest, whether you or someone else causes it. Specific risks vary from one activity to another and the risks range from minor injuries to major injuries, such as catastrophic injuries including death.”
    The release went on to say, “In consideration of your participation in the activities offered by 24 Hour, you understand and voluntarily accept this risk and agree that 24 Hour, its officers, directors, employees, volunteers, agents and independent contractors will not be liable for any injury, including, without limitation, personal, bodily, or mental injury . . . whether related to exercise or not”.
    The plaintiff in the case was Timothy Grebing and the defendant was 24 Hour Fitness USA, INC. Mr. Grebing was injured at the health club while using a “low row machine” at the facility in La Mirada, California. The low row machine is operated by sitting with one’s legs extended on pads and lifting weights by pulling a metal handlebar with both hands.
    In Mr. Grebing’s case, a clip or snap hook connects the handlebar to a cable or belt running through pulleys and attached to weights. Mr. Grebing did three sets on the machine and increased the weight to 220 or 240 pounds for the fourth set.
    However, as he was pulling the handlebar during his third or fourth repetition on his fourth set, the clip failed, causing the handlebar to break free from the cable and strike him in the forehead. He suffered injuries to his head, back, and neck.
    The case also revealed that Mr. Grebing had read the following warning label on the machine before he was injured: “PRIOR TO USE, BE SURE THAT THE SAFETY CLIP IS IN PROPER WORKING CONDIITION AND SHOWS NO SIGNS OF WEAR.”
    Another issue in the case was whether the health club was liable for “gross negligence” that may render the release useless or not effective. “Ordinary negligence” is perhaps OK to assume in a release document in certain situations, such as “faultily maintained” equipment.
    One of the central issues in the case was whether the release that Mr. Grebing signed when he joined the club was legal and therefore enforceable. The Court of Appeal held that an exculpatory contract releasing a party from liability for future ordinary negligence is valid unless it is prohibited by statute or impairs the public interest.
    Almaden Times readers can read the case for themselves by heading to their computer. In the browser enter the name of the case, Grebing v. 24 Hour Fitness USA, INC., and it should be up on your screen in a fraction of a second. It was filed January 29, 2015, and publication was ordered on February 19, 2015.
    We need to keep in mind that since it is a very recent case, it may be appealed to the California Supreme Court, or other cases somewhat similar to it may “distinguish” it significantly.
    So, in further answer to your question, Jack, you may be faced with a take-it or leave-it situation. Best wishes in your search for the right situation. I think you may find the investment in good health well worth it, especially if it is accident free.
    /s/Donald J. DeVries
    Almaden Valley

    You can reach Mr. DeVries with your questions by email at don@almadenvalleylawyers.com, with “Almaden Times” in the subject line, fax at (408)268-6502, telephone at (408)268-9500, or mail at DeVries Law Office at 6475 Camden Avenue, Suite 200, San Jose, CA 95120. Your name will not be used. No attorney-client relationship is created by these articles.

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