Anast v. LTF Club Operations Company, Inc. et al
MEMORANDUM Opinion and Order. Signed by the Honorable Matthew F. Kennelly on 11/20/2017. (lcw, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
LTF CLUB OPERATIONS CO., INC.
and LIFE TIME FITNESS, INC.,
Case No. 16 C 8763
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MATTHEW F. KENNELLY, District Judge:
About 1:00 a.m. on August 9, 2014, Gregory Anast was playing basketball with a
friend at the Life Time Fitness (LTF) facility in Vernon Hills, Illinois. He saw an
employee of LTF who appeared to be sweeping or mopping the floor but did not see
exactly what the man was doing. While chasing a loose ball, Anast slipped and fell near
the edge of the basketball court and broke his ankle. After he fell, he saw water
standing on the floor where he had slipped. The person who likely was the LTF
employee testified that he had been cleaning around the edges of the floor with a damp
mop and bucket.
The defendants, LTF Club Operations Co. and Life Time Fitness, Inc. have
moved for summary judgment. In deciding the motion, the Court views the evidence in
the light most favorable to Anast and draws reasonable inferences in his favor.
The operator of a business owes its customers a duty to exercise reasonable
care to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition for their use. See, e.g.,
Ward v. K Mart Corp., 136 Ill. 2d 132, 141, 554 N.E.2d 223, 227 (1990). When a
business invitee like Anast is injured in a fall, the business operator is liable if the
condition that caused the fall was placed there by the operator's agents or if the
operator or its agents had actual notice of the condition or it was there long enough that
it should have been discovered with ordinary care. See, e.g., Tomczak v. Planetsphere,
Inc., 315 Ill. App. 3d 1033, 1039, 735 N.E.2d 662, 667 (2000).
Anast has offered evidence that would permit a reasonable jury to find that his
fall was caused by water standing on the floor of the basketball court and that the water
was placed there by an agent of LTF or at least had been there long enough that an
employee of LTF reasonably should have discovered it. Specifically, Anast testified that
he slipped hard, indicating to him that there was something unusual about the condition
of the floor, and after he fell, he saw a puddle of water in the area where his foot
slipped. In addition, there was an LTF worker in the area who was working with a wet
mop who had been there for some time before the fall, and there was no one else in the
area, likely due to the late hour. LTF is not entitled to summary judgment based on the
insufficiency of the evidence offered by Anast.
LTF's primary argument in support of summary judgment is that Anast's claim is
barred by an exculpatory clause in the agreement that he signed when he because a
member of LTF some months earlier. The agreement contains sections entitled
"Assumption of Risk" and "Waiver of Liability," which include the following undertakings:
ASSUMPTION OF RISK. I understand that there are dangers,
hazards, and risks of injury or damage, some of which are inherent in
the use of Life Time's premises, facilities, equipment, services,
activities, or products . . . .
B. Risks. I understand that the dangers, hazards, and risks of
injury or damage in the Use of Life Time Premises and Services ("Risks")
may include but are not limited to (1) slips, trips, collisions, falls, and
loss of footing or balance, including "slip and falls" and falls from
rock climbing structures or fitness equipment; (2) drowning; (3)
equipment failure, malfunction, or misuse; (4) property theft, loss or
damage, including from lockers or vehicles; and (5) other accidents or
incidents that may result in injury or damage to me, Minor Member(s),
Other Member(s) or Guests.
I understand that Risks and Injuries in the Use of Life Time Premises and
Services (collectively, "Risks of Injury") may be caused, in whole or in
part, by the ORDINARY NEGLIGENCE OF LIFE TIME, me, Minor
Member(s), Other Member(s), Guest(s) and/or other persons. FULLY
[sic] UNDERSTAND, AND VOLUNTARILY AND WILLINGLY ASSUME,
THE RISKS OF INJURY.
WAIVER OF LIABILITY. On behalf of myself . . ., I hereby
voluntarily and forever release and discharge Life Time from, covenant
and agree not to sue Life Time for, and waive, any claims, demands,
actions, causes of action, . . . or any other alleged liabilities or obligations
of any kind or nature, whether known or unknown (collectively, "Claims")
for any Injuries to me . . . in the Use of Life Time Premises and Services
which arise out of , result from, or are caused by any Ordinary
NEGLIGENCE OF LIFE TIME, me, any Minor Member(s), any Other
Member(s), any Guest(s), and/or any other person . . . . (collectively,
Negligence Claims. I understand that Negligence Claims
include but are not limited to Life Time's (1) negligent design, construction
(including renovation or alteration), repair, maintenance, operation,
supervision, monitoring, or provision of Life Time Premises and Services;
(2) negligent failure to warn of or remove a hazardous, unsafe, dangerous
or defective condition; (3) negligent failure to provide or keep premises in
a reasonably safe condition; (4) negligent provision of or failure to provide
emergency care; (5) negligent provision of services; and (6) negligent
hiring, selection, training, instruction, certification, supervision or retention
of employees, independent contractors or volunteers; or (7) other
negligent act(s) or omission(s).
Defs.' LR 56.1 Stat., Ex. G (emphasis in original).
Illinois law is clear that an entity, including a fitness facility, may contract away
liability for its own negligence via an exculpatory agreement. See, e.g., Cox v. U.S.
Fitness, LLC, 2013 IL App (1st) 122442, ¶ 14, 2 N.E.3d 1211, 1215. An exculpatory
agreement will be upheld under Illinois law unless it violates settled public policy, the
parties have a special or substantially disparate bargaining relationship that precludes
enforcement, or the type of injury the plaintiff sustained was not reasonably foreseeable
or contemplated. See, e.g., Garrison v. Combined Fitness Ctr., Ltd., 201 Ill. App. 3d
581, 584, 559 N.E.2d 187, 189-90 (1990). The first two of these exceptions do not
apply; Anast does not argue otherwise. Specifically, there is no public policy that
preludes a fitness center from enforcing an exculpatory agreement, and this is not one
of the types of situations where a special relationship or disparate bargaining power
precludes enforcement. Garrison, 201 Ill. App. 3d at 585-86, 559 N.E.2d at 190.
Anast argues that the third exception applies. He contends that the condition
that caused his injury was not within the scope of possible dangers ordinarily
accompanying playing basketball and thus was not reasonably contemplated. See
Hamer v. City Segway Tours of Chicago, LLC, 402 Ill. App. 3d 42, 45, 930 N.E.2d 578,
581 (2010). As Judge Sam Der-Yeghiayan stated in another case involving LTF:
To be valid, an exculpatory agreement "must spell out the intention of the
parties with great particularity and will not be construed to defeat a claim
which is not explicitly covered by [its] terms." . . . [But] [a]n injury not
specifically contemplated in an exculpatory clause can also still be
covered if it "fall[s] within the scope of possible dangers ordinarily
accompanying the activity and, therefore, reasonably contemplated by the
Locke v. Life Time Fitness, Inc., 20 F. Supp. 3d 669, 673 (N.D. Ill. 2014) (quoting
Hamer, 341 Ill.Dec. 368, 930 N.E.2d at 581).
Anast argues that the exculpatory agreement does not expressly cover the
condition or injury that took place here and that the danger that existed was not of a
type that ordinarily accompanies playing basketball and thus was not reasonably
contemplated. The Court disagrees. Slippery conditions—and specifically water—on a
gym floor is within the scope of dangers that may ordinarily accompany playing
basketball, and it is thus within the reasonable contemplation of an ordinary person
entering into an exculpatory agreement like the one Anast signed.
Anast argues that "there is no reference [in the agreement] to Plaintiff's allegation
that Life Time's failure to either prohibit the use of or rope off the dangerous areas of
their basketball courts while its employees were cleaning the floors." Pl.'s Mem. in
Resp. to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. at 5. But this is, as LTF argues, simply another way
of contending that LTF was negligent in failing to warn of, or remove, a hazardous
condition—a danger expressly covered by the exculpatory agreement and, as it relates
to water on a gym floor, within the reasonable contemplation of an ordinary person
entering into the exculpatory agreement.
This case is nothing like the two on which Anast relies, Locke, which involved an
injury resulting from improper or defective training of employees, or Offord v. Fitness
International, LLC, 2015 IL App (1st) 150879, 44 N.E.3d 479, in which the injury
resulted from a leaking roof or window. See id. at ¶ 21, 44 N.E.2d at 484-85 (noting that
the exculpatory agreement at issue "does not make any mention of shielding defendant
from liability from the building itself being defective"). In those situations, the danger
went beyond both what the agreements in question covered and what would have been
reasonably contemplated by persons engaging in the particular activities involved. Here
the situation is different; the injury is claimed to have resulted from an employee's failure
to remove or warn of a hazardous condition, which LTF's exculpatory agreement
specifically mentions. It is true that an exculpatory agreement exempting liability for
negligence is strictly construed against the party it benefits, Cox, 2013 IL App (1st)
122442, ¶ 14, 2 N.E.3d at 1215, but "[t]he precise occurrence that results in injury . . .
need not have been contemplated by the parties at the time of contracting. The injury
must only fall within the scope of possible dangers ordinarily accompanying the activity
and, therefore, reasonably contemplated by the parties." Id. at ¶14, 2 N.E.2d at 121516 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). That is the case here. The
defendants are entitled to summary judgment.
For the reasons stated above, the Court grants defendants' motion for summary
judgment [dkt. no. 37] and vacates the status hearing and ruling set for November 21,
2017. The Clerk is directed to enter judgment in favor of defendants and against
Date: November 20, 2017
MATTHEW F. KENNELLY
United States District Judge
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