Articles

PA Superior Court Affirms Validity of Exculpatory Clause in Gym Membership Agreement

by John C. McMeekin II, Carl D. Buchholz, III, and Angela M. Heim

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On March 23, 2018, a panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court issued its unanimous decision affirming the trial court’s entry of summary  judgment in favor of Fitness International, LLC, based on an exculpatory clause set forth in the membership agreement signed by the plaintiff to join the fitness facility. The Superior Court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that her claim involved a “matter of public health and safety” because it involved a unsafe condition of the fitness facility’s property and, therefore, contravened public policy.  Analogizing the case to two prior appeals decided in favor of fitness facilities based on exculpatory clauses in membership agreements  (Toro v. Fitness International, LLC and Hinkal v. Pardoe),  the Court noted that all of the cases involved a “private individual engaged in recreational activity, which is not classifiable as a matter of public or state interest.”  The Court also rejected the plaintiff’s argument that she may have not received the second page of the membership agreement which contained the exculpatory clause on the ground that she had waived that argument by not raising it at the trial court level, but also because she had admitted signing the first page of the agreement containing an acknowledgement that she had read and understood the exculpatory clause on the second page of the agreement and was, therefore bound by it. The Court stated that the “failure to read [the contract] is an unavailing excuse for defense and cannot justify an avoidance, modification or nullification of the contract or any provision thereof.”

Vinson v. Fitness International, LLC, No. 2875 EDA 2016 (Super. Ct., March 23, 2018)

For more information, please contact John C. McMeekin II at jmcmeekin@rawle.com, Carl D. Buchholz, III, at cbuchholz@rawle.com or Angela M. Heim at aheim@rawle.com.