Release in Fitness Club Membership Papers Barred Action of Member Against Club

In a recent case in Franklin County, an appeals court held that a fitness club member could not sue the fitness club for a malfunctioning treadmill that injured the member. When joining the club, the member had signed papers that released the club from any liability even when it was caused by the club’s own negligence.

In Geczi v. Lifetime Fitness, the member was injured when she began running on a treadmill. As she increased the speed of the treadmill, the incline function engaged on its own and the machine began jerking violently. When the member grabbed the side railing of the treadmill, she felt a popping sound from her left arm. She reported the treadmill malfunction to a club employee and the manager. Both allegedly told her that they knew that the machine had been malfunctioning since the day before the incident.

When she joined the club, the member had signed documents that said that she assumed the risk of injury from all equipment at the fitness center and that she waived any and all claims against the fitness club, even if the club was negligent in allowing dangerous conditions to arise.

The court of appeals looked at the language in the release. If the language was clear and unambiguous, the court stated that the claim would not be allowed. If the document language was ambiguous, then the release would not be enforced and the case could proceed. The court said that an agreement is ambiguous when it can be interpreted in more than one way. The court of appeals found the language in the club’s release to be clear and the only reasonable interpretation was that the member had released all claims against the club for the club’s negligent conduct.

Other Ohio courts of appeal have reached different results. One court of appeals, in construing a differently-worded release, found that the language was so general, that it was meaningless. Thus, in determining whether the release will be enforced, the courts look to the exact language in the release. If the release clearly states that the member waives all rights against the club arising out of the use of the equipment, the release will be enforced.

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