Hot Yoga Gone Wrong: Gym Saved by Exculpatory Clause in Member Usage Agreement
When it comes to slip and falls, one doesn’t usually think of a hot yoga studio in a luxury gym as a site rife with hazardous conditions. However, in New Jersey, the Appellate Division had to examine a summary judgment decision in a case where plaintiff allegedly slipped and fell on sweat on the floor of a hot yoga studio in Florham Park. Skarbnik v. Life Time Fitness, Inc., 2021 WL 3923270 (App. Div. 2021).
In Skarbnik, the Appellate Division examined whether an exculpatory clause in plaintiff’s member usage agreement warranted a dismissal for defendant Life Time Fitness, Inc. Plaintiff, who had been a member of Life Time Fitness since 2011, signed a Member Usage Agreement that contained an assumption-of-risk provision which essentially stated that by signing the agreement, plaintiff understood that there was an inherent risk of slip and fall injuries arising from the use of equipment and services at Life Time Fitness. There was also a release of liability provision in the member usage agreement whereby plaintiff agreed to waive any claim arising against Life Time Fitness for personal and bodily injury resulting from the negligence of Life Time Fitness.
Plaintiff’s complaint alleged that Life Time Fitness created a dangerous condition consisting of a wet and slippery floor due to sweat and that Life Time Fitness failed to warn patrons of said dangerous condition. After discovery ended, the trial judge granted defendant summary judgment based on exculpatory language in the member usage agreement. Plaintiff appealed stating that the member usage agreement was too broad and unconscionable.
The Appellate Division affirmed. While noting that exculpatory clauses are generally disfavored for incentivizing careless behavior, the Appellate Division distinguished special assumption-of-the-risk clauses in the context of private gyms from other exculpatory clauses. The Appellate Division stated that a private gym cannot insulate itself through an exculpatory clause from the ordinary duty of care owed by all businesses to its invitees seen in “garden variety slip and fall case” such as where someone slips on the tread of a stair. However, the Appellate Division held that “slipping on sweat while exiting a ninety-degree-heated and darkened hot yoga studio is not the type of accident that ‘could have occurred in any business setting’, but was related directly to plaintiff’s participation in defendant’s hot yoga class.” Id. at 4.
Therefore, while an exculpatory clause in a contract might not be held enforceable for “garden variety” slip and falls, where the exculpatory clause has language pertaining to assumption-of-the-risk and the plaintiff was participating in an activity that places themselves in harm’s way, and the defendant has not acted in a grossly negligent manner, then the exculpatory clause may be enforced.
Thanks to Brendan Gilmartin for this contribution to this post. Please contact Heather Aquino with any questions.