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Contracts: Exculpatory Provision Clause

Vinson v. Fitness & Sports Clubs, 2018 Pa. Super. LEXIS 430 (May 4, 2018), McLaughlin, J.

The crux of both of Vinson’s issues lies in her contention that the Exculpatory Clause is invalid because it contravenes public policy. Vinson specifically asserts that her claim involves a vital matter of public health and safety. She argues that her cause of action involves the maintenance of facilities, which concerns the obvious health and safety of members of the public. To this end, she relies upon Leidy v. Deseret Enterprises, Inc., 252 Pa. Super. 162, 381 A.2d 164 (Pa.Super. 1977) (vacating grant of judgment on pleadings where plaintiffs had pleaded that exculpatory [*7]  provision in spa contract was unconscionable).

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that HN3 exculpatory provisions in contracts are valid where three conditions are met: “First, the clause must not contravene public policy. Secondly, the contract must be between persons relating entirely to their own private affairs and thirdly, each party must be a free bargaining agent to the agreement so that the contract is not one of adhesion.” [*9]  Chepkevich v. Hidden Valley Resort, L.P., 607 Pa. 1, 2 A.3d 1174, 1189 (Pa. 2010) (holding exculpatory provision contained in contract regarding season pass at ski resort was valid and did not contravene public policy).

When embarking on a public policy analysis, we recognize that exculpatory provisions “violate public policy only when they involve a matter of interest to the public or the state. Such matters of interest to the public or the state include the employer-employee relationship, public service, public utilities, common carriers, and hospitals.” Seaton v. E. Windsor Speedway, Inc., 400 Pa. Super. 134, 582 A.2d 1380, 1382 (Pa.Super. 1990).

Here, as in Chepkevich, Toro was engaged in a voluntary athletic or recreational activity: going to the gym. Before he was injured, he signed an agreement that explicitly provided that, by signing it, he waived all claims for any injury he suffered at the L.A. Fitness facility, even if the injury was caused by the negligence of L.A. Fitness. As in Chepkevich the Waiver Clause in this case is not contrary to public policy and the trial court therefore was correct in reaching that conclusion.