Monday, December 22, 2008
No Strict Liability for Gym’s Allegedly Defective Equipment—C.A.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A fitness center which provided exercise equipment for its members to use was not part of the chain of distribution for purposes of products liability, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled Friday.
Affirming Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James A. Kaddo’s grant of summary adjudication in favor of 24 Hour Fitness USA Inc., Div. Five explained that the availability of exercise equipment to Susana Ontiveros pursuant to her membership agreement with the gym was incident to the gym’s provision of fitness services.
Ontiveros entered into a membership agreement with 24 Hour Fitness which contained liability release provisions indicating that she agreed the center provided “recreational services” and was not liable for defective products.
Pursuant to the terms of the agreement, Ontiveros was entitled to use the gym’s equipment, services, and amenities, which included free weights; cardio-vascular conditioning machines and other specialized fitness equipment; group exercise classes; testing centers to record certain physical characteristics such as blood pressure and weight; and an introductory membership program that included three sessions with staff trainers. For additional fees, Ontiveros was also entitled to personal training and nutritional counseling services.
However, Ontiveros testified that she chose not to utilize any of the center’s other services or amenities than the exercise equipment, and that she had purchased her membership for the sole purpose of using the exercise equipment.
She claimed that a cardio-vascular conditioning machine at the 24 Hour Fitness facility in Panorama City had lost resistance while she was using it, causing her to fall backwards and injure herself, and filed suit, asserting causes of action for premises liability and strict products liability.
The trial court granted summary adjudication on both issues in favor of 24 Hour Fitness, but only appealed the judgment on her products liability claim.
Writing for the appellate court, Justice Richard M. Mosk clarified the distinction under the strict liability doctrine between providing a product for use by a consumer and providing a service.
He analogized Ontiveros’ case to Ferrari v. Grand Canyon Dories, (1995) 32 Cal.App.4th 248—which held that a whitewater rafting company that had provided a raft was not strictly liable to an injured customer because the company’s provision of a raft the customer was incident to the company’s recreational raft transportation service—and distinguished it from Garcia v. Halsett, (1970) 3 Cal.App.3d 319—which held the proprietor of a laundromat liable for providing a defective washing machine to the public.
Citing the undisputed evidence that 24 Hour Fitness provided more to members than just the use of exercise machines, Mosk reasoned that the provision of exercise machines was incident to the center’s provision of fitness services, and that Ontiveros’ decision not to avail herself to the additional services provided by the center did not alter that conclusion.
“[I]t is the terms of her agreement, rather than her subjective intentions, that define the dominant purpose of her transaction,” Mosk wrote. Absent any evidence that Ontiveros ever explained that she only wanted to use the exercise machine or a mutual intent of the parties to exclude the center’s additional services, the jurist concluded Ontiveros could not assert a valid claim for products liability.
Presiding Justice Paul Turner and Justice Orville A. Armstrong joined Mosk in his opinion.
Jesse L. Halpern of The Halpern Law Firm represented Ontiveros, while Jack C. Nick and Cynthia A. Palin of Prindle, Decker & Amaro represented 24 Hour Fitness.
The case is Ontiveros v. 24 Hour Fitness Corporation, 08 S.O.S. 6842.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company