ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Jeremy Telman
Oklahoma City University
School of Law

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Slip and Fall Cases in the Age of Releases

It is hard to imagine how a business can be liable for negligence these days.  Allowing people to use your business without having them first sign a release waiving all claims for injury, even if their injury is caused by the negligence of the business or its agents, should be the only remaining category of actionable negligence claims.  

LA FItness

Back in 2016, Vita Tebbi broke her hip when her foot got caught in something protruding from the treadmill she was dismounting.  It was likely the loose back cover of the machine, but it could have been anything, so long as the hazard was merely the product of L.A. Fitness's negligence.  The trial court granted L.A. Fitness's motion for summary judgement.  In Tebbi v. Fitness Int'l, LLC, a Califfornia appellate court affirmed.

When Ms. Tebbi joined the fitness center, she signed a release, which provided that she understood and assumed the risk of using Fitness's facilities.  She expressly released Fitness from claims for injury caused by Fitness's active or passive negligence while she was "in, upon, or about L.A. Fitness premises or using any L.A. Fitness facilities, services or equipment."  Rejecting Ms. Tebbi's argument that L.A. Fitness had been grossly negligent, the trial court found that the release barred Ms. Tebbi's claim.

The trial court had given Ms. Tebbi some hope in that it had identified disputed issues of fact relating to L.A. Fitness's negligence in a non-binding "tentative ruling."  Still, both the trial court and the appellate court found her allegations inadequate to make out a claim of gross negligence.  Allegations of "nonfeasance" in the maintenance of treadmills and placing them in close proximity to one another simply don't cut it when to comes to allegations of gross negligence.  Nor can L.A. Fitness be charged with gross negligence because its employee moved Ms. Tebbi from the treadmill area to the reception area after her fall.  Given that the evidence was that she broke her hip in the fall, not in the movement, there were not facts establishing negligence, let alone gross negligence.

Ms. Tebbi sought leave to amend her complaint to add a battery claim.  The trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the claim.

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