Fitness First held liable for member's stolen valuables

Posted at 07/11/12 4:52 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Court of Appeals Ninth Division on Wednesday said Fitness First Club cannot escape responsibility for stolen items of their members despite a written waiver exempting the club from any liability.

In a 17-page decision penned by Associate Justice Antonio Villamor, the court upheld the decision of the Makati City Regional Trial Court (RTC) branch 58 holding Fitness First Club Inc. liable for stolen items of a member last June 22, 2006.

The court said Fitness First cannot escape liability for the losses by invoking the provisions of its membership agreement as well as notices posted on the walls of their facilities warning members that the club would not be liable in case of loss items.

It said the waiver runs counter to Article 2003 of the Civil Code. It said that, similar to hotels and common carriers, the fitness gym has the responsibility to provide security to its clients and their belongings.

"On an even scale, Fitness First being a health club establishment is clearly bound to provide not only a comfortable working-out atmosphere for its members but also security to their persons and belonging," the CA said.

"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," it added.

The appellate court also affirmed the lower court's grant of the complainants claim for damages in the amount of P136,000.

Lawyers Rommel de los Reyes and Gerlyn Turingan earlier sought damages against Fitness First after de los Reyes lost his office uniform, a Nokia 6600 mobile phone, wallet containing P3,000 and identification cards inside the Fitness First locker.

The two terminated their membership with the club and filed a case for collection of money with damages contending that the club was negligent and did not even exert any effort to investigate the matter.

In its ruling, the CA dismissed the argument of Fitness First national operations consultant Kent Richards that the complainants failed to present evidence that would warrant the lower court's finding of negligence against the club.

The CA noted that Richards admitted that while one key is assigned to the locker user, Fitness First has a master key to unlock all the lockers.

“Thus, the probability that the subject locker was opened by a Fitness First employee cannot be discounted," it explained.

The stolen items of de los Reyes were later found in the locker area of Fitness First on June 24, 2006, two days after the reported incident.