THIS HOLD HARMLESS FROM [sic] AND WAIVER AND RELEASE OF ALL LIABILITY INCLUDES, WITHOUT LIMITATION, (i) INJURIES, DAMAGES OR DISEASES WHICH MAY OCCUR AS A RESULT OF (A) YOUR USE OF ANY FACILITY OR ITS IMPROPER MAINTENANCE, (B) YOUR USE OF ANY EXERCISE * * * EQUIPMENT, (C) IMPROPER MAINTENANCE OF ANY EXERCISE * * * EQUIPMENT OR FACILITIES * * * AND (ii) INJURIES OR MEDICAL DISORDERS RESULTING FROM EXERCISE, OR USE OF EQUIPMENT OR FACILITIES, AT THE FACTILITY * * * (Emphasis added).
The appellate court acknowledged that “[a] literal reading of the membership agreement reveals that Hawkins released Capital Fitness of all liability from injury, no matter the source, cause, or circumstance.” So, it would seem that the appellate court should have affirmed the entry of summary judgment for the defendant since the plaintiff claimed that the club’s maintenance crew improperly hung the mirror and the disclaimer held Capital Fitness harmless for improper maintenance of the club’s facilities.
But according to the appellate court, the ultimate question was whether the mechanism causing the injury was a type contemplated by the parties when they executed the membership agreement. Vacating the entry of summary judgment, the court concluded that reasonable minds could differ on whether the mirror-falling incident was an ordinary risk associated with the use of a fitness facility. Presumably, dropping a barbell on your throat constitutes a risk associated with using a fitness club, while a scalding shower, a defective closet door, or an unhinged mirror might not be the type of risk one assumes when agreeing to a fitness center’s exculpatory clause.
Hawkins will aid plaintiffs who assert that a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether an injury sustained while using a health club or other sports or recreational venue, was caused by a mechanism contemplated by the parties at the time they agreed to the exculpatory clause. The argument against summary judgment is further bolstered by the strict construction of an exculpatory clause against the party who relies on it.