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Summary Judgment Reversed in 24 Hour Fitness Brain Injury Suit

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Santa Clara, California, appeals court reversed a trial court's ruling granting summary judgment to 24 Hour Fitness, after the plaintiff suffered brain damage from a piece of gym equipment that fell on her head.

The trial court believed 24 Hour met its burden by establishing “it had a system of preventative and responsive maintenance of its equipment in place at its locations at the time plaintiff was injured.”

On appeal, Stacey Chavez and her husband argued they should have been allowed to prove whether 24 Hour was grossly negligent. Chavez was injured when the back panel of a cross-trainer machine struck her in the head at the 24 Hour-Parkmoor, CA, facility.

Another Interesting Read: NY Top Court Throws $600,000 Verdict Teen's Brain Discovered During Class Trip

The machine was allegedly missing a bracket and magnetic strip designed to secure the back panel. She sustained a traumatic brain injury that resulted in poor memory, headaches, poor memory, photophobia, and personality changes.

Many gym membership agreements have liability releases; 24 Hours argued the written release was a complete defense to the plaintiff’s negligence and premises liability claims.

Ambiguous Maintenance Schedules

Prior to trial, plaintiff was scheduled to depose the facilities technician responsible for maintaining the gym’s equipment. However, the defendant could not locate the technician because he was a no longer an employee of 24 Hour.

Because of this the plaintiff requested a continuance declaring there was no evidence maintenance was actually performed on the machine, despite the scheduled maintenance charts presented by the area manager. The trial court denied their request, stating it came after 24 Hour moved for summary judgment.

24 Hour argued they were not the service provider for the machine and the plaintiff failed to prove an “extreme departure from the ordinary standard of care.”

Eyewitness testimony submitted by the plaintiff – who were also gym members -- confirmed the facility failed to maintain some of the equipment properly. One witness recalled cables snapping on machines while in use and having issues with machines “quite often.”

The mechanical engineer and equipment specialists declared the cross trainer machine required weekly maintenance, which called for the removal of the back panel. The month of the incident the maintenance records did not show any work performed on each piece of equipment. In fact, the area manager of facilities testified all of the preventive maintenance logs for the Parkmoor facility were blank.

Because the evidence raised a triable issue of fact as to whether or not 24 Hour conducted regular preventative maintenance and were grossly negligent, the court ruled the trial court erred by granting summary judgment to the defendants.

Plaintiff's Continuation Argument

For a request for continuation the plaintiff must present an good faith showing by affidavit that:

  1. The extension is necessary to obtain facts essential to the opposing motion;
  2. There is reason to believe facts may exist; and
  3. The reasons why additional time is needed to obtain these facts.

Even if the plaintiff’s declaration fails to identify what facts they expect to gain from continuation, the courts must determine whether the party has established good faith. In this case, the appellate court believed deposing the former maintenance technician was important because the case was in the pre-trial phase.

This case is Stacey Chavez et al. v. 24 Hour Fitness USA Inc., case no H040987 in the Court of Appeal of the Sixth Appellate District of California.

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