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Cox v. U.S. Fitness, LLC

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division

December 18, 2013

ERIN COX, Plaintiff-Appellant,
US FITNESS, LLC, d/b/a Fitness Formula Clubs-Union Station, and ZACHARY BEACHLER, Defendants-Appellees.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 11 L 1423 Honorable Jeffrey Lawrence, Judge Presiding.

PRESIDING JUSTICE HYMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Pucinski and Mason concurred in the judgment and opinion.



¶ 1 Plaintiff Erin Cox filed suit against her gymnasium and personal trainer, defendants U.S. Fitness, LLC, and Zachary Beachler, after she fell and sustained a severe injury to her wrist during a personal training session. She alleged that defendants negligently instructed her to perform a dangerous exercise and used certain equipment in an unsafe manner, among other claims. The trial court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment, and Cox appealed.

¶ 2 Cox argues the trial court erred in three ways: (i) holding that the liability release in the parties' membership agreement governed her personal injury claim; (ii) ignoring issues of fact raised by a supplemental personal training agreement, which was not found in discovery; and (iii) failing to void the membership agreement as unconscionable or against public policy. Finding no error in the granting of summary judgment, we affirm the judgment.

¶ 3 Background

¶ 4 Defendant U.S. Fitness owns and operates a fitness club in Chicago named Fitness Formula Club. On March 4, 2009, plaintiff Erin Cox entered into a membership agreement with U.S. Fitness to use its club facilities. The agreement contained a waiver, which read:

"I have been informed that Fitness Formula Clubs (the Clubs) and its affiliated clubs and its owners, officers and employees will not be liable in lawsuits including negligence lawsuits brought against them by members or their guests. As material consideration for Fitness Formula Clubs and its affiliated clubs permitting members and guests to use the Club or its facilities, each member or guest agrees to specifically assume all risks of personal injury, property loss or other damages including risk associated with fitness classes and equipment, sports exercise, all locker room facilities and fitness advisory services and all other facilities. Further, all members and their guests waive any and all claims against any Fitness Formula Club, its affiliated clubs and the owners, officers, and employees of the Club for any personal injury, property loss or other damages connected to or arising out of any of the associated risks." (Emphasis added.)

Desiree Buford, member services director for U.S. Fitness, enrolled Cox. She asked Cox to read the liability waiver and to sign if she understood. Cox did not read or ask any questions about the waiver, and signed the agreement. Buford did not receive any training or instructions about how to answer questions about the waiver of liability, and she did not know what the term "fitness advisory services" meant.

¶ 5 As part of her membership, Cox received a complimentary personal training session with a trainer named Timi Wusu, an employee of U.S. Fitness. During the session, Wusu asked Cox about her fitness goals, but did not instruct her in any exercises. That day or the next, Cox purchased from U.S. Fitness a package of personal training sessions with Wusu. When Cox signed up for these sessions, she signed a second contract, though no second contract was produced during discovery nor is it part of the record. After several sessions with Wusu, he left U.S. Fitness. Defendant Zachary Beachler took over as Cox's personal trainer.

¶ 6 Beachler explained and demonstrated how to perform certain exercises. During these sessions, Beachler had Cox do jumping exercises, including jumping from standing onto a set of risers placed on the floor. On the day of the accident, Beachler set the risers to 18 inches high. Cox, who stood at five feet five inches, jumped on top of the risers and stepped down. On the second jump, as Cox described it, the riser collapsed and she fell backwards, severely injuring her wrist.

¶ 7 Cox filed suit against U.S. Fitness and Beachler, alleging that defendants negligently (I) stacked the risers, (ii) instructed Cox on how to jump on top of the risers, (iii) failed to implement necessary safety measures when instructing Cox on how to jump onto the risers, and (iv) failed to train employees on how to safely instruct, monitor, and supervise Cox's exercise. Defendants moved for summary judgment. The circuit court granted the motion. This appeal followed.

¶ 8 Standard of Review

¶ 9 "Summary judgment is appropriate where the pleadings, depositions, admissions, and affidavits show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Direct Auto Insurance Co. v. Beltran, 2013 IL App (1st) 121128, ¶ 43. A triable issue of fact precluding summary judgment exists "where there is a dispute as to material facts, or where, the material facts being undisputed, reasonable persons might draw different inferences from the facts." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) WolframPartnership, Ltd. v. LaSalle National Bank, 328 Ill.App.3d 207, 215 (2001). This court's review of a disposition ...

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