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Chavez v. 24 Hour Fitness H040987 2015 DJDAR 7930 6th District

Summary judgment on gross negligence claim against gym reversed, as potentially spotty record-keeping provides basis for triable issue of fact.

In February of 2011, the back panel of an exercise machine struck Stacey Chavez’s head and severely injured her at a 24 Hour Fitness center. Despite signing a release of liability form, Chavez sued 24 Hour Fitness for negligence. After nearly a year of submitted declarations from both sides, defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the liability form protected 24 Hour Fitness from ordinary negligence claims and that sworn statements from employees and a gym member established that there was no merits to the gross negligence claim. The trial court agreed. Chavez appealed, contending that there was a triable issue of fact as to whether 24 Hour Fitness performed regular maintenance on the machine that injured Chavez.

Reversed and remanded. In order to establish gross negligence, a plaintiff must allege that the defendant acted with “want of even scant care or an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of conduct.” In this case, Chavez contended that 24 Hour Fitness acted negligently in failing to perform regular maintenance on the injuring machine. In establishing this claim, she contended that the record system used by 24 Hour Fitness to request maintenance on fitness machines was poorly kept and that there was uncertainty as to whether or not necessary bolts and magnetic strips were missing from the machine when Chavez used it. This court found that Chavez raised triable issues and reversed the trial court’s summary judgment. On remand, this court instructed the lower court to grant Chavez’s request for a continuance in order to take the deposition of a maintenance worker at 24 Hour Fitness responsible for the machine that injured Chavez.

In short, ordinary negligence can be considered gross negligence depending on the way in which it is pled. This further erodes the effectiveness of the waiver.