Have you ever wondered what is buried in all the forms you sign when you join a health club? Minnesotan Marvin Resnick recently found out the hard way. Mr. Resnick had been a long-time member of Northwest Fitness Club. When the club became Lifetime Fitness, he signed the various forms required to transfer his membership. One of the forms was entitled the “Member Usage Agreement (MUA).” The agreement contained the following language:
“Release of Liability…I waive any and all claims or actions that may arise against Life Time Fitness, Inc., its affiliates, subsidiaries, successors or assigns…as a result of any such injury…to any such person, including and without limitation, personal, bodily or mental injury, economic loss or any damage to me, my spouse, my children or guests resulting from the negligence of Life Time Fitness or anyone else using a Lifetime fitness center. “
Although he may not have realized it, when Mr. Resnick signed this form, he was waiving any claims he might have against the club– even if they were responsible for a hazardous condition at the club. Subsequently, Mr. Resnick was badly injured when he slipped and fell on construction dust in a racquetball court at the club. His initial suit against the club was dismissed on summary judgment as a result of the Release of Liability clause in the MUA. Mr. Resnick appealed and, on June 8, 2010, the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the district court decision in case A09-1372. The Court stated that it is settled Minnesota law that under certain circumstances, parties to a contract may, without violation of public policy, protect themselves against liability resulting from their own negligence.
The Court of Appeals cited Anderson v. McOskar Enterprises, Inc., 712 NW2d 796,799 (Minn. App. 2006). In that case, plaintiff Anderson joined a Curves fitness owned by McOskar and signed a form similar to Lifetime’s “MUA” containing the following language:
“In consideration of being allowed to participate in the activities and programs of Curves for Women® and to use its facilities, equipment and machinery in addition to the payment of any fee or charge, I do hereby waive, release and forever discharge Curves International Inc., Curves for Women®, and their officers, agents, employees, representatives, executors, and all others (Curves® representatives) from any and all responsibilities or liabilities from injuries or damages arriving [sic] out of or connected with my attendance at Curves for Women®, my participation in all activities, my use of equipment or machinery, or any act or omission, including negligence by Curves® representatives.”
Ms. Anderson was given an exercise plan and, while performing her exercises, complained of neck pain to her trainer. Anderson alleged that she had been told to work through the pain as it was “ just her muscles not being used to the exercise.” Ms. Anderson ultimately needed a cervical discectomy to repair the damage done to her neck, and she sued Curves/McOskar, alleging negligence on the part of their trainer. The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that the release form she signed was binding and that Ms. Anderson could not bring a claim for her injuries, even if her trainer had been negligent.
Although the Court of Appeals said in both of these cases that there are some specific instances where a health club release would be invalid– if it waived claims for intentional or willful acts on the part of the club, for instance– the clear impact of these cases is to make your health club immune to suit for its general negligence.
Be aware of what you are signing and know that if someone is asking you to sign something, it is generally for a reason. If you don’t like the language in a contract you are signing, line it out, or consider not signing.