An Illinois Appellate Court recently upheld a waiver and release clause in a fitness club’s membership agreement that barred an injured member from seeking damages in court. In Hussein v. L.A. Fitness International, the plaintiff was severely injured while using the dip/chin exercise machine at a fitness club. As a result of the injuries sustained, he is now a quadriplegic. The plaintiff alleged that the fitness club was negligent and failed to properly monitor, supervise, or instruct its members on how to use the equipment. This case is instructive to all public bodies that require signed waivers by participants for activities and events such as field trips, student travel, athletics, and community activities.
The trial court granted the fitness club’s motion to dismiss because the plaintiff’s membership agreement with the fitness club included a waiver and release clause of liability and indemnity. The plaintiff appealed the case and argued that the clause should not be enforced because it was confusing, did not contain clear language, and did not comply with the format required by law. In addition, the plaintiff argued that the fitness club failed to explain the waiver and release clause when he signed the agreement.
The Court found that both Minnesota law (where plaintiff entered into the agreement) and Illinois law do not favor exculpatory clauses, but will enforce them in order to preserve the public interest of freedom to contract. Only if a clause lacks clarity or purports to release a party from liability from intentional torts or willful or wanton recklessness will it not be enforced. The Court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the language of the agreement lacked clarity. The court was also persuaded by the fact that the services offered to plaintiff were not essential and that plaintiff voluntarily entered into the agreement with the fitness club. The Court reasoned that the agreement included language specifically stating that the plaintiff had read and understood the release and waiver of liability. For all of these reasons, the agreement was enforceable.
Based on this case, a court likely will uphold a waiver and release agreement if the activity is voluntary and the agreement is clear, does not release a party from intentional acts, and is signed by the participants.
* Jamel Greer, a third-year law student at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, is a Loyola Education Practicum Student. The Practicum, part of Loyola’s education law curriculum, was created to provide law students with practical experience at education law firms and organizations. Students receive academic credit for their Practicum experience.