South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Liability Waiver Would Not Excuse Gross Negligence
Description In a case where a patron of a health club died from injuries when he fell from a treadmill, an appeals court held that while the liability waiver would protect the club from suit in case of ordinary negligence, it would not relieve the club in the event that gross negligence could be shown.
Topic Torts
Key Words Negligence; Gross Negligence; Liability Waiver
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts The second time Yan used the facilities at a fitness center he fell off a treadmill, struck his head, and died of the injury. No one witnessed the fall. Plaintiffs contended that the treadmill was too close to a window, which was gross negligence, because, they speculated, when Yan fell he struck the ledge. Defendant contended that Yan fell due to his own carelessness or illness, that he fell to the floor, not against the ledge, and that there was no negligence in the placement of the treadmill. Defendant also noted that Yan signed a liability waiver. The trial court dismissed the suit. Plaintiff appealed.

Reversed. Gross negligence is conduct so reckless as to demonstrate a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury results. If plaintiffs could demonstrate such negligence, then there could be a cause of action against the defendants. The liability waiver signed by Yan could release defendants from liability for ordinary negligence, but would not apply in case of gross negligence, which would have to be demonstrated at trial. The fact that the liability waiver signed by Yan did not specify that the facility would not be liable in case of ordinary negligence does not affect its effectiveness; its language was clear enough to indicate to a patron what was being signed.

Citation Xu v. Gay, 668 N.W.2d 166 (Ct. App., Mich., 2003)

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