While in Illinois enforces personal-injury waiver forms, they have to be very specific. This was demonstrated in the case entitled Offord vs Fitness International, LLC (LA Fitness) 2015 IL App (1st) 150879.
I suppose at the outset I should disclose that I am a member of LA fitness in Springfield Illinois. The injury we’re discussing occurred in Cook County Illinois, which is about three hours away. I like our local LA fitness, but have no particular affiliation with them other than I work out at one.
In Offord, LA fitness had required the person using the facilities to sign a waiver, as do many health clubs. This particular waiver said that the person using the premises releases and holds harmless and agrees not to sue the health club for any and all claims from the use of the facilities “facilities, services, equipment or premises.”
The case begins with a discussion of a fact question as to whether or not the plaintiff signed the waiver. The trial court concluded that plaintiff had signed it, despite fairly good evidence he had not, and the appellate court found that to be a reasonable decision. While that may have been interesting factually, it is not interesting legally.
The court then analyzed the waiver. The appellate court cited case-law saying that although a party may agree to avoid liability for negligence, such exculpatory clauses “must contain clear, explicit, unequivocal language referencing the type of activity, circumstance, or situation that it encompasses for which the plaintiff agrees to relieve the defendant from a duty of care.” The defendant is required to put the plaintiff on notice of the range of dangers for which the plaintiff assumes the risk of injury. The scope of the clause is defined by the foresee-ability of the danger. Exculpatory clauses are construed strictly against the person who drafted them because courts do not favor waivers.
The trial court in this case ruled that the waiver precluded plaintiff’s claim – plaintiff could not bring suit for injuries he sustained. The injuries occurred when plaintiff suffered an injury on water that was caused by a leak in a defective roof.
The appellate court reversed, finding that the waiver did not put him on notice that there was a defective roof where he could be injured by a defective roof. The court cited a similar case, (Larsen vs. Vic Tanny International 130 Ill.App.3d. 574 (1984)), where the waiver did not apply when a plaintiff suffered respiratory injuries after having inhaled chemicals while at the club.
A dissenter in the Offord case argued that the phrase “all claims arising from the use of the services, equipment or premises,” included slipping on a wet substance on gym floor while playing basketball. The dissent made the reasonable argument that the court has created a tenuous distinction between a water bottle spill and a leaky roof spill.
At Ackerman Law Office we handle injury claims. We understand the law as it applies to injury claims, including personal-injury waivers. If you have been injured in a situation where someone else’s negligence has caused your injury, do not hesitate to contact us for a free initial evaluation.