Court: Gyms are like hotels, liable for lost items

Do you agree that gyms and fitness centers can be imposed, by analogy, the liability of inns and hotels? It appears that the Court of Appeals (CA) would answer in the affirmative. In one case, it said: "[A gym such as Fitness First], being a health club establishment is clearly bound to provide not only a comfortable working-out atmosphere for its members but also a security to their persons and belongings."

SOURCE: Torres (2012). Fitness First Club liable for member’s stolen items—Court of Appeals. Tetch Torres. @T2TupasINQ / 11:37 AM July 11, 2012.’s-stolen-items—court-of-appeals.

FACTS: In 2006, Atty. Rommel Delos Reyes complained of stolen office uniform, a Nokia 6600 mobile phone, wallet containing P3,000, calling cards and identification cards at the management of Fitness First at Robinsons Place Manila. The manager, however said they cannot be held liable citing the provision in the membership agreement and notices posted on its walls. Delos Reyes terminated his membership and filed a complaint against the health club before the lower court, which ruled in his favor. The health club appealed the case.

RULING OF THE CA: The CA upheld the decision of the Makati City Regional Trial Court (RTC) holding Fitness First Club Inc. liable for stolen items of its member. In other words, according to the CA, a gym (fitness center) is liable to members whose personal property has been stolen within its premises.

In 17-page decision dated July 2, 2012, the CA through the ponencia of Associate Justice Antonio Villamor said Fitness First cannot escape liability by saying that the Application Form and Club Rules, which was signed by every member upon enrollment states that it cannot be held liable for losses. In short, such a signed application form is an invalid waiver of rights.

The CA said that the provision in the membership agreement as well as the notices posted on its walls run contrary to the provision of Article 2003 of the Civil Code. The said provision states that "the hotel keeper cannot free himself from responsibility by posting notices to the effect that he is not liable for the articles brought by the guest. Any stipulation between the hotel-keeper and the guest whereby the responsibility of the former…is suppressed or diminished shall be void."

One criticism, however, is that gyms cannot be considered as hotels or inns by analogy. This is because the main service provided by fitness centers is not comfort and accommodation but fitness and exercise equipment.The appeals court, however, explained that a health and wellness center like Fitness First is akin to those engaged in hotel and common carrier businesses which are imbued with public interest.

The appeals court said it gives great weight to the findings of the lower court and echoed its ruling that Fitness First should have conducted an in-house investigation since it admitted that it has a master key that could open all lockers.

Since Delos Reyes’ locker was not forcibly opened, the court noted that it is possible that an employee could have opened the locker using the master key.

The law in turn does not allow its responsibility to the public to be negated or diluted by any contrary stipulation in so-called undertakings that ordinarily appear in prepared forms imposed on their guests and members as in this case.

“Fitness First’s utter disregard of the theft of its member’s personal belongings deposited in its locker and lackadaisical attitude on the reported loss constitutes negligence and dereliction of its duties and responsibilities as operator of a health and wellness establishment,” the appeals court said.

It affirmed the award for damages worth more than P136,000 in favor of Delos Reyes.

SOURCE: Torres (2012). Fitness First Club liable for member’s stolen items—Court of Appeals. Tetch Torres. @T2TupasINQ / 11:37 AM July 11, 2012.’s-stolen-items—court-of-appeals.