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Florida Third DCA rules that release form signed by gym customer did not bar premises liability lawsuit for injuries suffered by customer in assault at gym

On April 24, 2019, in Fresnedo v. Porky’s Gym, III, No. 3D17-1126, the Florida Third DCA reversed the trial court’s summary judgment in favor of the defendant gym owner in a premises liability case.  The plaintiff in the case was allegedly attacked by another gym customer.  The trial court granted summary judgment based on an exculpatory clause in the waiver and release form signed by the plaintiff. Quoting from Gillette v. All Pro Sports, LLC, 135 So. 3d 369, 370 (Fla. 5th DCA 2014), the Third DCA noted that exculpatory clauses such as the one at issue here “that purport to deny an injured party the right to recover damages from another who negligently causes injury are strictly construed against the party seeking to be relieved of liability.” The majority of the Third DCA panel concluded that the exculpatory clause did not clearly and unequivocally waive the defendant’s liability.  In a dissenting opinion, Judge Logue focused on a paragraph of the release indicating that the plaintiff would “assume full responsibility for any risk of bodily injury, death or negligence of any of the clubs or otherwise while on the premises occupied by any of the clubs.” However, the majority opinion pointed out that the three paragraphs immediately preceding this paragraph focus on injuries related to the plaintiff’s use of the facility’s equipment, creating an ambiguity as to the meaning of the fourth paragraph.

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