No pain, no gain is a motto that can be heard in many gyms. Being struck by a falling mirror likely isn’t the kind of pain people are talking about, but that’s what happened to Michael Hawkins at his Logan Square gym.
Hawkins was sitting on a bench doing arm curls with free weights at an X-Sport Fitness gym when a fellow gym-goer bumped into the three-foot by eight-foot mirror. The mirror fell and hit Hawkins, injuring him.
He filed a one-count suit over the incident against Capital Fitness Inc., which was doing business as the gym X-Sport Fitness.
Cook County Associate Judge William E. Gomolinksi granted summary judgment in the gym's favor, but a panel of the First District Appellate Court on March 4 reversed and remanded the matter.
Justice Michael B. Hyman delivered the opinion, with Justices Aurelia Pucinski and Mary Anne Mason concurring.
Hawkin’s original complaint accused the gym of negligence in the mirror incident. He claimed he did not read nor did he have the “Disclaimers, Waiver, Release and Indemnification” clause in membership agreement explained to him before he signed it.
That clause, which Gomolinksi cited in his decision, releases the gym of nearly any liability regarding injury.
Gomolinksi and the appeals panel, despite its reversal of the summary judgment ruling, point out that in the case of contracts, ignorance is not a legal defense.
“A literal reading of the membership agreement reveals that Hawkins released Capital Fitness of all liability from injury, no matter the source, cause, or circumstance,” Hyman wrote.
He goes on, however, to say that exculpatory clauses don’t cover “any conceivable claim.”
Exculpatory agreements, such as the one Hawkins signed with X-Sport extend only as far as the scope of injuries a plaintiff could foresee subjecting his or herself to, Hyman wrote, adding that the idea of Hawkins foreseeing a mirror falling on him was indefensible.
“Should Hawkins have worn protective equipment, like a helmet, to militate against the risk? Is Hawkins (and every member) expected, for safety purposes, to conduct a personal, comprehensive investigation of all aspects of the facility, including the quality and fit of every mirror?” Hyman wrote.
The ruling sites another instance of a gym-goer being injured. Gregory Larsen claimed he was harmed from inhaling cleaning compounds used by his gym. Like Hawkins, Larsen signed a membership agreement that included a broad exculpatory clause.
Larsen filed suit against the gym in state court and eventually an appellate court sided with him, saying that, like Hawkins, there was no way Larsen could have envisioned cleaning compounds used in the gym causing him harm.
“Like Larsen, we are unable to hold, as a matter of law, that a falling mirror is a danger within the scope of the exculpatory clause,” Hyman wrote.
In part, the lower court also granted a summary judgment because Hawkins failed to show any proof that X-Sport knew about the mirror’s condition. The plaintiff in a premise liability suit must show that the owner of the property knew about the problem before it happened.
“The premise underlying this portion of the trial court's ruling and Capital Fitness's argument is that Hawkins pursued a premises liability cause of action. Our review of Hawkins's one-count complaint, however, establishes that it sounds in negligence, not premises liability,and therefore, lack of evidence concerning notice is both inapplicable and irrelevant,” Hyman wrote for the panel.