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Liability waiver upheld against woman injured at Illinois fitness club

This June, an Illinois District court ruled in favor of Life Time Fitness regarding a lawsuit involving an injury sustained by a woman while walking on a swimming pool grate cover.

Trisha Heidrich, a Life Time Fitness member, claims that she was injured as she was exiting the gym’s swimming pool. Specifically, according to court documents, “while exiting the zerodepth swimming pool the pool filter/ grate cover broke, causing plaintiff's foot to fall through, get stuck and Plaintiff was caused to fall, striking the floor with great force and violence and sustaining serious and permanent injury.”

Through its negligence in maintaining and inspecting the pool grate to ensure that it was safe for patron use, the suit argues, Heidrich sustained a serious injury that is not normally associated with swimming or use of a pool.

In a rare decision, however, the court disagreed, stating that the gym’s “Assumption of Risk” and “Waiver of Liability” agreements protect the gym from the suit in question.

According to Attorney Deedee Gasch, who is not connected to the lawsuit, “generally, releases and waivers are not favored by courts and will be strictly construed against the party seeking to enforce them.”

This case was an exception. In his decision, United States Magistrate Judge M. David Weisman argued that falling while exiting a pool is within the scope of dangers that normally accompany using a pool. In its member usage agreement, Life Time Fitness expressly defined falling as a risk associated with using the gym. Heidrich’s case stated that Life Time Fitness “carelessly and improperly failed to properly maintain [and] inspect the swimming pool and specifically the pool filter/grate cover… to maintain an adequate maintenance program to ensure that the swimming pool and specifically the pool filter/grate cover was safe for patron use... used an inferior material for the pool filter/grate cover… and failed to warn members of the unsafe conditions.”

However, Judge Weisman found that the gym’s “Waiver of Liability” does in fact release Life Time from claims arising from any negligence of Life Time, including “negligent design, construction. repair, maintenance, operation”; “negligent failure to warn of or remove a hazardous, unsafe, dangerous or defective condition” and; “negligent failure to provide or keep premises in a reasonably safe condition.”

Weisman’s decision was unusual because, although every state is different, many states don’t support liability releases, with courts stating that upholding liability waivers is not in the public interest.

For example, disclaimers are entirely void in Virginia, Montana, and Louisiana, and their use is restricted in Arizona, New Mexico, and West Virginia.

The suit took place in Illinois, however, where, for Judge Weisman, it all came down to the language of the contract and the foresight of Life Time Fitness to anticipate the types of injuries and means of incurring those injuries while exercising on their premises.

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