Colorado generally supports participation in recreational activities to assist public health, insurance affordability, and the economy. In contrast, the Premises Liability Act outlines the duties owed by landowners to exercise reasonable care to protect those on their property from dangerous conditions. Businesses with liability concerns such as ski resorts, gyms, and health clubs commonly draft agreements containing exculpatory clauses, which relieve a party from potential liability in cases of injury. The case of Jones v. Dressel (1981) pioneered a method for courts to analyze the validity of exculpatory agreements according to four specific requirements.
Stone v. Life Time Fitness
Plaintiff Wendy Stone brought the case to a Colorado appeals court seeking damages for injuries incurred while in the locker room as a member of Life Time Fitness Center. After washing her hands, Stone tripped on a blow dryer cord hanging below the sink and broke her ankle. A district court found the signed membership agreement sufficient in releasing Life Time from liability. On appeal, the court sought the “Jones Method” of analysis to test the validity of the agreement as follows:
- Does party perform a public duty?
- Are the services provided considered necessities, or essential services?
- Was contract fairly entered into by the parties?
- Was the intent of the agreement presented in a clear and unambiguous manner?
Examining the Agreement
The court interpreted the agreement as acceptable relative to the 1st three factors. The fitness center did not provide necessary services to the public, and neither party had an unfair advantage at the time it was agreed upon. Ms. Stone willingly entered the agreement and no evidence of a disparity in power existed. The 4th factor which evaluates the ambiguity and clarity of the language was a problem for the Defendant. The focus of the agreement was the assumption of risk in strenuous exercise and equipment usage. It cited risks when using pools, waterslides, a climbing wall, racquet ball courts, and cardio programs. Further, it addressed problems such as heart attacks, strokes, and broken bones. There was no mention of locker or rest rooms, except concerning loss, damage, or theft of personal property. The exculpatory clauses repeated phrases such as “including, without limitation, and not limited to”, making them confusing, ambiguous, and frequently expansive.
An Agreement Surfaces from a Prior Case
The court found an agreement from a similar Ohio case, Geczi v. Life Time Fitness (2012). This agreement from Life Time contained exculpatory language for waiving accidents claims, including a clause addressing those in locker rooms, showers and dressing areas. Life Time had no such clause in this case, which further influenced the court to reverse the decision on behalf of Ms. Stone
Many factors can impact a personal injury claim. Fortunately, the Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal will aggressively represent Colorado injury victims in cases regardless of the complexity. They seek justice for clients through aggressive negotiations with insurance providers, or by taking your case to trial. Contact the office today for a complimentary consultation.