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Short-Karr v. RB Gyms, Inc., 2015 WL 7776734 (Del. Super. Ct. Nov. 20, 2015)

Delaware Superior Court holds that non-paying gym goer is business invitee, not guest without payment, denies Motion for Summary Judgment

According to the Plaintiff’s complaint, on September 30, 2013, she entered a Club Fitness with her son to exercise.  Her son had a gym membership with Defendant and was permitted to bring a non-member guest for free.  Plaintiff began her workout on one of the Defendant’s treadmills.  Following that she began walking to the locker room to use the restroom, and while walking Plaintiff tripped and fell over the black support leg of an exercise machine.  Plaintiff fell against the door of the ladies locker room and landed on her left side and face.  Following the fall, Plaintiff was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. According to Plaintiff, she suffered severe, painful and permanent physical injuries to her arm and shoulder.  Plaintiff’s complaint claimed that her injuries were a result of negligent of the Defendant.  She did not allege wilful or wanton conduct on the part of the Defendant. 

Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment arguing that Plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted as she had not alleged that Defendant acted willfully or wantonly.  According to Defendant, Plaintiff was a guest without payment, and the only duty Defendant owed her was to refrain from wilful or wanton conduct.  Plaintiff responded that she was a business invitee and was owed a duty of reasonable care by the Defendant to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition, or to warn invitees of any latent or concealed danger.  As such, Plaintiff argued that mere negligence on the part of the Defendant was all that she was required to allege in her complaint. 

To support her position, the Plaintiff filed an affidavit from her son indicating that the primary reason he joined Defendant’s gym was because Defendant had a policy which allowed him to bring guests to work out with him without being charged.  He was aware of this policy when he joined the gym. This policy was important to him because he wanted to bring his mother with him as she was trying to lose weight.   According to the Plaintiff’s son, his mother was a frequent workout partner of his and although he was the named gym member, the Plaintiff would actually pay the membership fees.

The Superior Court acknowledged that the only duty owed to a guest without payment in Delaware is that a landowner must refrain from wilful and wanton conduct.  In light of the affidavit submitted by the Plaintiff’s son, however, the court found that the Plaintiff was a business invitee.  The court reasoned that the Defendant obtained a financial benefit in allowing non-paying guest to accompany paying members to the gym.  The court emphasized that Plaintiff’s son would not have joined Defendant’s gym if it did not have such a policy.    As a business invitee, the court held, mere negligence is all that the Plaintiff must pled in her complaint.  Therefore, the Superior Court held that Plaintiff had sufficiently pled negligence on the part of the Defendant and denied the Motion for Summary Judgment.

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