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Anthony Pruitt v. Strong Style Fitness

October 13, 2011


Civil Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case No. CV-717666

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sean C. Gallagher, P.J.:

Cite as Pruitt v. Strong Style Fitness,




BEFORE: S. Gallagher, P.J., Keough, J., and E. Gallagher, J.

{¶1} Appellant Anthony Pruitt appeals the decision of the trial court granting the motion for summary judgment filed by appellee Juggernaut Enterprises, LLC, d.b.a. Strong Style Fitness and Training Center ("Strong Style"). For the following reasons, we affirm the decision of the trial court.

{¶2} In January 2009, Pruitt joined Strong Style, paying for two months of gym membership and ten personal training sessions with Charles Lyons. Upon joining, Pruitt signed two documents, one for the general membership and another titled "Strong Style Rules and Regulations." The rules and regulations document contained an exculpatory clause on the first page of a two-page, double-sided document. An underlined clause in that document provides in pertinent part as follows:

"Release. * * * On behalf of yourself and your minor children, you hereby agree to voluntarily release and discharge Strong Style Fitness and Training Center (and all its affiliates, employees, representatives, agents, successors, and assigns) from any and all claims, causes of action, and other liabilities of any kind whatsoever ([sic] whether known or unknown, which may occur as a result of your or your minor children engaging in any bodybuilding or fitness activity, or any activity incidental thereto, upon or within the Facilities, whether arising from the negligence of Strong Style Fitness and Training Center or otherwise, and whether or not related to exercise, including, without limitation, any bodily injury or death caused by any present or future medical condition of yours or your minor children whether known or unknown. * * * You acknowledge that you carefully read this Waiver and Release and fully understand that it is a release of liability. You are waiving any right that you may have to bring a legal action to assert a claim against Strong Style Fitness and Training Center for our negligence."

{¶3} Immediately preceding the signature line containing Pruitt's signature, the document contains a paragraph certifying that Pruitt read and understood the terms of the rules and regulations.

{¶4} Pruitt participated in four personal training sessions prior to the ill-fated session. During this fifth session, Pruitt was using the incline leg press machine under Lyons's supervision. The machine required Pruitt to sit at a 45-degree angle with his legs extending upwards. The weights were hung on a 90-pound platform that Pruitt pushed with his legs.

Lyons showed Pruitt how to operate the machine and the safety catch that holds the platform in place. To use the machine, the user extends his legs and disengages the safety catch. Before finishing, the user holds the platform with his legs, engages the safety catch, and lowers the platform onto the safety catch.

{¶5} During the fifth session, Pruitt pressed 350 pounds. After finishing his sets, Pruitt engaged the safety catch and rested momentarily. Pruitt was unable to visually verify whether the catch was fully engaged from his seated position. Likewise, Lyons, who was standing next to the weight platform to "spot" Pruitt, was unable to visually verify whether the safety catch was fully engaged. Lyons heard the catch engage as if it was properly activated. Pruitt then attempted to exit the machine by grabbing the foot platform. Inexplicably, the platform disengaged from the safety catch and fell on Pruitt's knee, causing severe injuries. The parties speculated that either the safety catch was not fully engaged or Pruitt somehow lifted the platform enough to raise it off the safety catch as he was getting up, which would cause the catch to disengage. Both theories are based on conjecture. Pruitt's claims are based on Lyons's failure to ensure the machine was secured prior to Pruitt's attempt to exit the machine.

{ΒΆ6} Strong Style filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted its motion and held that Pruitt failed to demonstrate that Strong Style, through Lyons, was negligent and that the release contained in the rules and regulations document was enforceable, thereby prohibiting Pruitt from maintaining his action. Pruitt timely appealed, raising one assignment of error that provides as follows: "The trial court erred in granting defendant-appellee's motion for summary judgment because the release language within Strong Style gym's membership agreement was unenforceable as a matter of law and plaintiff-appellant presented sufficient evidence for jury consideration of his negligence claim." The crux of Pruitt's argument is ...

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