HARRISBURG — A woman who claims that she was injured after falling at a L.A. Fitness in Huntingdon Valley in 2013 cannot prevail in her lawsuit because she signed a membership agreement that included a release and waiver and her "issues on appeal lack merit," according to a recent decision filed in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.
The Superior Court affirmed a lower court's ruling that had granted summary judgment in favor of L.A. Fitness.
Superior Court of Pennsylvania Judge Maria McLaughlin
Fitness center member Dolores Vinson filed the lawsuit in 2015. She then filed an appeal after the trial court pointed to a release and waiver, or "exculpatory clause," that was part of the three-page membership agreement that Vinson admitted she had signed.
"Here, Vinson was voluntarily engaged in recreational activity, attending the gym, and was subject to the membership agreement, an agreement between private parties," Judge Maria McLaughlin wrote in the court's May 4 opinion.
"Vinson has not identified any statutory provision, no administrative regulation, or any legal precedent to support her claim that the exculpatory clause was unenforceable. She instead relies on mere suppositions of the public interest, which are insufficient to invalidate a contract provision for violation of public policy."
The Superior Court panel also included judges Mary Jane Bowes and John L. Musmanno.
When Vinson joined L.A. Fitness in July 2012, she signed a membership agreement. The first page of the agreement stated that she agreed to abide by the entire agreement as well as membership policies and club rules and regulations. The agreement included a detailed "release and waiver of liability and indemnity" clause.
Vinson acknowledged that she signed the agreement, "although she does not recall reading the document at the time she signed it," McLaughlin wrote in the order.
In July 2015, Vinson filed her complaint against L.A. Fitness, claiming negligence after she allegedly suffered injuries when she tripped and fell on a wet floor mat. The fall allegedly caused Vinson "to suffer serious and permanent personal injuries," according to the appellate court's decision.
L.A. Fitness, for its part, pointed to the agreement that Vinson had signed, including the release and waiver. In June 2016, L.A. Fitness filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that she was precluded from prevailing in the case because of the release and waiver she signed—and the trial court agreed.
But Vinson appealed the decision.
Vinson claimed in her appeal that the trial court abused its discretion "and otherwise committed an error of law" when it granted the motion for summary judgment because "there exists a genuine dispute as to material fact as to whether important public policy issues are implicated and render the exculpatory provision unenforceable," according to the appellate court's decision.
Vinson also argued "that she might not have even received" the release and waiver because it was on the membership agreement's second page, "and she only signed the first page," according to the appellate court's decision. The appeals court, however, waived that argument.
"However, even were it not waived, Vinson’s claim lacks merit because she acknowledged receiving the exculpatory clause via the language just above the signature line on the first page of the membership agreement," McLaughlin wrote in the order.