Plaintiff Kirk Anderson appealed from a trial court’s grant of summary judgment for defendant Fitness International, LLC, (L.A. Fitness) following his being injured in a locker room shower. Anderson contended the trial court erred because a triable issue of fact existed as to whether L.A. Fitness was grossly negligent. The California appeals court disagreed and upheld the lower court’s decision.
In December 2011, Anderson, who was in his early 60s, joined L.A. Fitness in Glendale. He signed a membership agreement, which included a release and waiver of liability (the Release). In September 2012, Anderson finished his exercises and went to take a shower. The shower room has a tile floor that Anderson alleges has significant and sharply downward slanting slopes and is layered and covered with body oil and soapy residue. There are no handrails, shower mats, or friction strips in the room.
As Anderson moved toward a shower nozzle, his foot slipped, and he began to fall. Anderson extended his left arm to brace himself. When he hit the floor, he felt extreme pain in his arm between his elbow and shoulder, since his humerus had snapped. A fitness instructor called 911, and an ambulance took Anderson to the hospital. Two days later, he underwent surgery to repair his humerus with a plate and screws.
Anderson alleged L.A. Fitness knew or should have known of what he claimed was a dangerous condition. Anderson claimed he had previously fallen twice in the men’s shower room and, after each fall, had notified employees at the front desk of the dangerous condition. According to Anderson, the employees seemed only marginally interested to hear his complaints and requests to make the men’s shower safer. Anderson had also notified the employees at the front desk that the shower room was dangerous after personally observing numerous other patrons fall in the men’s shower.
A few weeks after sustaining his injury, Anderson wrote L.A. Fitness to say he had fallen in the shower room numerous times, he had witnessed others fall, and the shower room was unsafe. Anderson returned to the health club in April 2013 and observed that no changes had been made to the men’s shower room.
Anderson filed a complaint in April 2013, alleging causes of action for negligence per se and gross negligence. The gravamen of his claim for damages based on gross negligence was that L.A. Fitness reasonably could have foreseen that a member using the men’s shower room would slip and fall on the floor, which was often covered with soapy or oily residue, and L.A. Fitness took no safety precautions to prevent such falls. Anderson alleged that L.A. Fitness’ actions were malicious and in willful and conscious disregard of his safety, entitling him to punitive damages. In June 2014, the trial court granted the defendant’s summary judgment motion and entered judgment in favor of L.A. Fitness.
On appeal, Anderson contended the trial court erred in granting the motion for summary judgment because Anderson presented evidence that L.A. Fitness had noticed the shower safety hazard and failed to mitigate it. L.A. Fitness responded that it satisfied its burden of showing the Release barred any claim against L.A. Fitness for ordinary negligence and that Anderson failed to produce evidence demonstrating a triable issue of material fact that L.A. Fitness’ conduct rose to the level of gross negligence.
The court held that, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Anderson, there was no triable issue of material fact to preclude summary judgment. First, the court held there was no dispute that the Release was valid and constituted a complete defense to Anderson’s negligence cause of action. Since L.A. Fitness asserted the Release as a complete defense to Anderson’s negligence cause of action, the burden then shifted to Anderson to produce evidence demonstrating L.A. Fitness’ conduct constituted gross negligence. The court concluded that Anderson failed to allege facts sufficient to show gross negligence. The court reasoned that Anderson needed to allege additional facts to show that the condition of the floor was an extreme departure from ordinary conditions in such facilities or that the health club had taken no measures to mitigate the inherent risk.
In the absence of evidence that the condition of the floor in the men’s shower room evidenced an extreme departure from the standard of care, the court concluded, there was no basis for a trier of fact to conclude that L.A. Fitness was grossly negligent. Thus, the court held that L.A. Fitness satisfied its burden of persuasion on summary judgment of demonstrating that under no hypothesis was there a material factual issue requiring trial.
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