Thursday, January 2, 2003
Court of Appeal Enforces Broad Interpretation of Release Agreement
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A health club member who was injured while trying to adjust the position of a television set sitting on a shelf is barred from suing the club because he signed a broad release agreement, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled Tuesday.
Div. Five upheld a judgment in favor of the company that operates the Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa a the Loews Santa Monica Hotel. The plaintiff, Tom Benedek, claimed the company’s negligence caused the March 2000 accident in which he injured his knee.
Benedek testified at his deposition that on the day of the accident, he intended to use an elliptical training machine that ordinarily faced a television set suspended on a rack above head level. Noticing that the set was facing away from the machine, he attempted to return it to its usual position, but the set began to slide off the rack and his efforts to hold it in place failed.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Caesar Sarmiento granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. The judge said that by signing a membership agreement that, by its terms, was “intended to be a complete release of any responsibility for personal injuries—sustained by any MEMBER—whether using exercise equipment or not,” Benedek had released the club from any liability of the type he was alleging.
Justice Margaret Grignon, writing for the Court of Appeal, agreed. The release was “clear, unambiguous, and explicit,” she said, and was an absolute bar to Benedek’s claim.
Benedek’s claim that he only released the club from liability related to fitness activities, she said, was not “semantically reasonable.” While it could be argued that positioning a television set “in preparation for monotonous aerobic training” was fitness-related, Grignon said in a footnote, it makes no difference to the decision.
The justice distinguished cases in which health clubs were held not to be protected by releases that were ambiguous, or where the language relied on was inconspicuous.
In one of those cases, Leon v. Family Fitness Center (#107), Inc., 61 Cal.App.4th 1227, the plaintiff suffered head injuries when a bench in the sauna collapsed beneath him while he was lying on it.
The trial judge granted summary judgment based on a provision releasing the club from liability for injury resulting from “use of the facilities or participation in any sport, exercise or activity.” But the Court of Appeal said the release did not unambiguously apply to injuries of the type alleged by the plaintiff.
Grignon contrasted that release with the one signed by Benedek, which covered all activities occurring on the club’s premises from the time the patron entered, she said.
Attorneys on appeal were Gregory F. Stannard of Culver City for the plaintiff and Glenn Rosen and Suzanne Klump of the Law Offices of Koester & Beavers for the defendant.
The case is Benedek v. PLC Santa Monica, LLC, B157016.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company