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Minnseota Court Upholds Health Club Exculpatory Clause

Blogs, Risk Management

On June 8, 2010, the Minnesota Court of Appeals issued an unpublished decision in the case of Resnick v. Life Time Fitness, Inc., Docket No. A09-1372, in which it upheld the enforceability of an exculpatory clause contained in the membership agreement of a health club.  Appellant was a racquetball player and a member of the Appellee facility.  At the time he became a member, he executed a membership agreement, which contained an exculpatory clause.

In January, 2008, Appellant was seriously injured when he slipped and fell during a racquetball game.  He claimed that he slipped on construction dust and debris caused by construction work being performed at the facility by a wholly owned subsidiary of the defendant.  At the trial level, the defendant facility moved for judgment on the pleadings based on the language of the exculpatory clause, and judgment was granted in its favor.

The exculpatory provision read, in relevant part, as follows:

“I waive any and all claims or actions that may arise against Life Time Fitness, Inc., its affiliates, subsidiaries, successors or assigns (collectively “Life Time Fitness”) as well as each party’s owners, directors, employees or volunteers as a result of any such injury, loss, theft, or damage to any such person, including and without limitation, personal, bodily or mental injury, economic loss or any damage to me… resulting from the negligence of Life Time Fitness or anyone else using a Life Time Fitness Center…. “

On appeal, Appellant argued that the negligence complained of in this case was a “heightened” form of negligence, and so the exculpatory clause was not applicable.  The court disagreed, finding that the language of the complaint clearly asserted a claim for simple negligence.

Appellant further argued that this clause was ambiguous in that it named “subsidiaries,” but did not spcifically name the wholly owned subsidiary construction company by name.  The Court of Appeals disagreed and upheld the lower court’s decision.

This is an interesting case because it finds that broad language referencing “subsidiaries,” etc. is sufficient to protect against even a wholly owned construction company doing work at a recreational facility.  This could be interpreted to offer protection to all types of recreational facilities, such as ski areas  and stadiums/arenas, where one company owns/operates the facility and a wholly owned subsidiary does maintenance, repairs, and/or construction.