A membership card and a previously signed agreement prevented a suit against a facility after an injury.
In an interesting case, a California Court of Appeals ruled that a husband's alleged execution of a release agreement on behalf of his wife prevented her subsequent personal injury lawsuit against a fitness facility. In this case, Brown v. 24 Hour Fitness (Contra Costa County Super. Ct. No. C05-00438), the wife joined the defendant facility in early 2001, and apparently executed a prospective release as part of a membership agreement with the facility. Several months later, she terminated her membership. However, her son acquired a membership for her in the fall of 2001, and her husband allegedly signed her name to the membership agreement, which also contained a release provision. Thereafter, she was provided and subsequently used a membership card that stated, "This membership and card are not transferable and are bound by the terms covered in membership agreement." Apparently, the wife used the membership card on a number of occasions to gain access to the fitness center, its facilities and various amenities prior to March 2003.
On March 3, 2003, she suffered a severe injury when she allegedly fell over a 55-pound dumbbell that was left on the floor. She filed suit against the facility about two years later, and the fitness center moved for summary judgment based on the wife's apparent execution of the agreement containing the release, and her subsequent use of the facility through the use of the membership card. While she contended that her husband had signed the agreement and not herself, the trial court granted judgment to the defendant based on the release. The injured plaintiff then appealed.
On appeal, the appellate court determined that even if the plaintiff's husband signed her name to the agreement, she had previously signed an identically worded agreement when she had a membership in her own name, and had used the membership card and the club's facilities on several occasions knowing that the card referenced the agreement containing the release. Since the appellate court determined that the release was "readable, understandable and free from ambiguity," it held "that even if the plaintiff did not know the terms of the release in the second membership agreement, she constructively knew of them based upon her prior dealings, the nature of her membership and her use of an access - granting membership contract or card that put her on notice of those terms." Therefore, it affirmed the trial court's ruling in favor of the fitness center.