The Supreme Court of Delaware recently affirmed a state district court decision dismissing a lawsuit filed by a man who was injured by an equipment malfunction that occurred while the plaintiff had been exercising at a fitness facility being operated by the defendant. The Delaware Supreme Court ruled in the case of Ketler v. PFPA, LLC that the liability release signed by the plaintiff when he became a member of the gym was a valid and enforceable waiver of all of the plaintiff's claims against the defendant. Based on the ruling, the plaintiff will not recover any damages to compensate him for the injury, even if it was caused entirely by the negligence of the defendant or their employees.
The Plaintiff Is Hurt by a Piece of Exercise Equipment, but the Defendant Argues That Liability Was Released
The incident that led to the filing of this lawsuit occurred in April 2013, when the plaintiff was using a cable row machine at a Planet Fitness facility being operated by the defendant. According to his complaint, the machine had been negligently maintained, and a cable snapped when the plaintiff was using the machine, causing the weights to drop and resulting in the man's injuries. In response to the personal injury lawsuit that was filed by the injured man, the defendant argued that a liability waiver that was signed by the plaintiff before he became a member of the gym prevented his recovery. The waiver stated, in part:
“I understand and expressly agree that my use of this Planet Fitness facility … involves the risk of injury to me or my guest whether caused by me or not. … I understand and voluntarily accept this risk and agree that Planet Fitness, its officers, directors, members, agents and independent contractors will not be liable for any injury, including, without limitation, personal, bodily, or mental injury … resulting from the negligence of Planet Fitness or anyone on Planet Fitness’ behalf whether related to exercise or not. Accordingly, I do hereby forever release and discharge Planet Fitness from any and all claims, demands, injuries, damages, actions or causes of action. I further understand and acknowledge that Planet Fitness … may not be held liable for defective products.”
The district court granted the defendant's motion to dismiss the case based on the liability release, and the Delaware Supreme Court agreed on appeal. The high court applied the legal standard to determine whether the prospective negligence release was valid. The court found that the requirements were met. The release was clear and unequivocal, it was not unconscionable, and it did not violate public policy. Based on these considerations, the court found that the plaintiff was a member of the private fitness club and had released all claims coming from the club's negligence.
Illinois Courts Have Come to a Similar Conclusion in Fitness Center Cases
The Illinois Court of Appeals has encountered personal injury lawsuits resulting from allegations of negligence in maintaining a fitness facility, and it has ruled similarly to the Delaware court. In the case of Hussein v. LA Fitness International, an Illinois accident victim became paralyzed after an incident he blamed on the defendant's negligence, and the liability waiver was upheld, barring the man's lawsuit. Both the courts in Illinois and Delaware placed emphasis on the clarity of the language of the release. Not all liability releases are worded the same, and ones that are not as clear and unambiguous as in these cases may not be enforceable. Anyone who was injured by another's negligent behavior, whether they signed a liability release or not, should consult with a qualified Illinois negligence attorney to determine if they have a viable case.
Should You Contact an Attorney?
If you or a loved one has been injured by the negligent acts of another, it may be possible for you to obtain compensation for the injuries, even if a liability waiver or release was signed. The qualified Illinois personal injury and wrongful death attorneys at Cavanagh Law Group will help you with your case from start to finish, and we will do all we can to get you the compensation that you deserve. The Chicago accident lawyers at Cavanagh Law Group represent victims in most personal injury and wrongful death cases.