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Vinson v. Fitness & Sports Clubs, LLC

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

May 4, 2018

DOLORES VINSON Appellant
v.
FITNESS & SPORTS CLUBS, LLC, FITNESS INTERNATIONAL, LLC, LA FITNESS INTERNATIONAL, LLC

          Appeal from the Order Entered August 11, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Civil Division at No(s): 150703082

          BEFORE: BOWES, J., McLAUGHLIN, J., and MUSMANNO, J.

          OPINION

          McLAUGHLIN, J.

         Dolores Vinson appeals from the trial court's August 11, 2016 order granting summary judgment in favor of Appellee, Fitness International, LLC (f/k/a L.A. Fitness International, LLC)("L.A. Fitness"). We affirm.

         L.A. Fitness operates fitness clubs/gyms, including the one here at issue, which is located in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania. Vinson became a member of this fitness facility on July 4, 2012, when she signed a three-page membership agreement ("Membership Agreement"). The first page of the Membership Agreement states, inter alia, that L.A. Fitness and the undersigned buyer agree "that you are purchasing a membership from L.A. Fitness according to the terms on both pages of this Membership Agreement and the Membership Policies and Club Rules and Regulations . . . ." Membership Agreement at 1. Vinson signed the Membership Agreement at the bottom of page 1.

         The second page of the Member Agreement contains an exculpatory provision ("Exculpatory Clause") that is printed enclosed in a black box. The Exculpatory Clause reads as follows:

IMPORTANT: RELEASE AND WAIVER OF LIABILITY AND INDEMNITY. You hereby acknowledge and agree that use by Member and/or by Members minor children of L.A. Fitness' facilities, services, equipment or premises, involves risks of injury to persons and property, including those described below, and Member assumes full responsibility for such risks. In consideration of Member and Member's minor children being permitted to enter any facility of L.A. Fitness (a "Club") for any purpose including, but not limited to, observation, use of facilities, services or equipment, or participation in any way, Member agrees to the following: Member hereby releases and holds L.A. Fitness, its directors, officers, employees, and agents harmless from all liability to Member, Member's children and Member's personal representatives, assigns, heirs, and next of kin for any loss or damage, and forever gives up any claim or demands therefore, on account of injury to Member's person or property, including injury leading to the death of Member, whether caused by the active or passive negligence of L.A. Fitness or otherwise, to the fullest extent permitted by law, while Member or Member's minor children are in, upon, or about L.A. Fitness premises or using any L.A. Fitness facilities, services or equipment. Member also hereby agrees to indemnify L.A. Fitness from any loss, liability, damage or cost L.A. Fitness may incur due to the presence of Member or Member's children in, upon or about the L.A. Fitness premises or in any way observing or using any facilities or equipment of L.A. Fitness whether caused by the negligence of Member(s) or otherwise. You represent (a) that Member and Member's minor children are in good physical condition and have no disability, illness, or other condition that could prevent Member(s) from exercising without injury or impairment of health, and (b) that Member has consulted a physician concerning an exercise program that will not risk injury to Member or impairment of Members health. Such risk of injury includes (but is not limited to): injuries arising from use by Member or others of exercise equipment and machines; injuries arising from participation by Member or others in supervised or unsupervised activities or programs at a Club; injuries and medical disorders arising from exercising at a Club such as heart attacks, strokes, heat stress, sprains, broken bones, and torn muscles and ligaments, among others; and accidental injuries occurring anywhere in Club dressing rooms, showers and other facilities. Member further expressly agrees that the foregoing release, waiver and indemnity agreement is intended to be as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the law of the State of Pennsylvania and that if any portion thereof is held invalid, it is agreed that the balance shall, notwithstanding, continue in full force and effect. Member has read this release and waiver of liability and indemnity clause, and agrees that no oral representations, statements or inducement apart from this Agreement have been made.

Membership Agreement at 2 (emphasis added).

         According to her deposition testimony, Vinson acknowledges signing the Membership Agreement, although she does not recall reading the document at the time she signed it. Vinson Deposition Testimony, 5/10/16, at 71-73. Directly above the signature line of the Membership Agreement, the following language is provided: "By signing this Agreement, Buyer acknowledges that Buyer . . . has received a filled-in and completed copy of the Agreement has read and understands the entire agreement including but not limited to . . . the Release and Waiver of Liability and Indemnity . . . ." Membership Agreement at 1.

         On July 28, 2015, Vinson filed a complaint against L.A. Fitness, sounding in negligence. Specifically, Vinson claimed that on October 1, 2013, she tripped and fell on a wet floor mat causing her to suffer serious and permanent personal injuries. Vinson's Complaint at 2. In short, Vinson averred that L.A. Fitness's negligence regarding the maintenance of the premises caused the conditions that directly resulted in her injuries. Id. 2-4. L.A. Fitness filed an Answer and New Matter on September 3, 2015, wherein it asserted that Vinson's claim was barred by the Exculpatory Clause. Vinson countered by filing a Reply on October 1, 2015.

         L.A. Fitness filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on June 30, 2016, claiming that (1) Vinson could not demonstrate that L.A. Fitness created or had notice of the wet mat; (2) Vinson had not provided the requisite expert to establish the applicable standard of care; and (3) the Exculpatory Clause precluded recovery. The trial court granted L.A. Fitness's motion on August 11, 2016, without further explanation. Vinson filed a court-ordered Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) Statement of Matters Complained of on Appeal and, in a Rule 1925(a) Opinion, the trial court explained that it granted L.A. Fitness's Motion for Summary Judgment on the basis of the Exculpatory Clause. The instant timely appeal followed.

         Vinson raises two issues for our review:

1. Whether the trial court abused its discretion and otherwise committed an error of law when it improperly granted [L.A. Fitness's] Motion for Summary Judgment?
2. Whether the trial court abused its discretion and otherwise committed an error of law when it improperly granted [L.A. Fitness's] Motion for Summary Judgment where there exists a genuine dispute as to material fact as to whether important public policy issues ...

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