Can I Sue My Gym?
If you have a problem with your gym or health club, you may be able to sue them. When it comes to gym memberships, the two common events that give rise to lawsuits are:
- When you get hurt at the gym
- When the gym improperly bills you
If you get injured at the gymnasium, you can consult with a personal injury attorney to see if you have a case.
On the other hand, if the fitness center billed you more than what you agreed to, or they've made it nearly impossible for you to cancel your membership, a consumer protection attorney can give you legal advice.
Check the Gym Contract Before Suing
There are certain clauses in your gym contract that might be harmful to your lawsuit under certain circumstances, so you should check your membership agreement to see if your recovery is limited. Problematic clauses include:
- Liability waivers/disclaimers and assumption of risk
- Cancellation requirements
- Forum selection and arbitration clauses
A disclaimer of warranties and limitation of liability clause might state that a gym is not responsible for injuries to you. The clause might also state that you are assuming the risk of getting hurt when you work out at the gym. However, as a matter of public policy, many courts across the country have ruled that assumption of risk waivers are suspect and don't automatically nullify legitimate injury claims. This is especially true if your injury wouldn't have happened but for the gym's negligence or reckless conduct.
A forum selection or venue clause will state that you can only bring your case against the gym in a specific location. For example, if the clause says that a claim can only be brought in the courts of New York, your case might get thrown out if you try filing it in Los Angeles, California. However, state laws might preempt (cancel out) this kind of clause if the court in your locality has an interest in hearing a matter involving an injury that occurred within the jurisdiction of that court.
Your gym membership agreement might also have a mandatory arbitration clause, which will state that before you can sue in court, you have to do mediation or binding arbitration. Mediation is an opportunity to try to resolve your case amicably with the help of a neutral mediator, though their decision will not be legally enforceable against either party. On the other hand, in binding arbitration, the decision of the arbitrator — usually an experienced private lawyer or retired judge — will carry the same weight as the ruling of a court.
Where a gym membership agreement conflicts with local, federal, and state laws regarding disclaimers, limitations on liability, forum selection, or arbitration, then it might not matter if your gym agreement says you can't sue. Also, sometimes the conduct of the gym or their personal trainer might be so abusive or inappropriate that a court might have an interest in hearing a lawsuit against the company no matter how restrictive the terms and conditions happen to be.
Breach of Contract Lawsuits
The terms of the contract will state how much and how often the gym will bill your credit card. Yet, it's not uncommon to see unfair late fees and other hidden fees. Some fitness clubs are also notorious for making it very difficult (if not impossible) to cancel your membership. For example, they'll make you jump through hoops — by repeatedly calling them or mailing out a physical cancellation request — when a simple meeting with the gym front desk should have done the trick.
Whether the gym is billing you too much or refusing to let you cancel, the type of case to file in these situations would be a breach of contract lawsuit.
While state laws can differ, in general, these are the legal elements you must show to prove that a breach of contract has occurred:
- a valid contract existed;
- you've performed your obligations under the contract;
- the other side has breached the contract by failing to perform; and
- damages (losses).
What if your gym intentionally and maliciously drained your bank account?
If it appears that the gym is overcharging you or refusing to let you cancel with purposeful intent to act maliciously toward you, you may be able to sue them for civil fraud as well. While state laws again can vary, a claim for fraud will generally involve:
- the gym making a false statement;
- with an intent (“scienter") to deceive you; and
- your reasonable reliance and resulting injury from the false statement.
For example, if you can show that the gym staff intentionally lied to you about an easy opt-out, or they lied to you about the non-existence of surprise fees (e.g. cancellation or penalty fees), you may be able to pursue them for fraud in addition to breach of contract.
If you're thinking about bringing a personal injury claim, you may sue for things like:
- Unsanitary or dangerous conditions
- Faulty gym equipment
- An unqualified personal trainer (or harmful advice)
During the Covid-19 pandemic, it became especially important for gyms to sanitize gym equipment. Yet, dirty machines, swimming pools, and hot tubs can cause you serious illness. Or, if the workout equipment is not well-maintained and falls apart on your feet, you could end up breaking limbs at no fault of your own.
Even if all the equipment is working, the gym's personal trainers might not have the necessary qualifications to properly advise you on healthy exercise. You could end up getting injured from performing a workout incorrectly even under their paid supervision.
In an injury lawsuit against a gym, you'll want to sue for negligence. Think of negligence as carelessness by the gym or its staff that leads to injury. To prove that a gym was negligent in causing injuries to your person, you must show the following four elements:
- Duty: You must show that the gym had a duty to prevent foreseeable harm to likely victims.
- Breach: The gym must have breached (violated) its duty; for instance, by failing to follow reasonable safety procedures.
- Causation: The gym's breach (e.g. failure to follow reasonable safety procedures) must have been the cause of your personal injury.
- Damages: When you suffer a personal injury, you may incur pain and suffering and medical expenses. You must be able to substantiate these damages using evidence like medical records and bills.
For example, if you're a paying member of the gym, you would argue that the fitness club has a duty to ensure your safety as their patron. If they breach that duty by failing to maintain their workout equipment, and you end up getting hurt because faulty clamps caused weights to fall on your foot, then you could sue for damages resulting from your broken bones.
Class Action Lawsuits
In some cases, you may be able to bring your lawsuit as a class action. A class action is a procedural mechanism that allows a group of people collectively to bring a case against a defendant.
Depending on whether a class action lawsuit is being filed in state court or federal district court, there are different requirements before it can be certified by the judge. A leader or “class representative" — typically someone who has suffered at the hands of a defendant and is intending to sue personally anyway — decides to sue the defendant on behalf of all other injured parties.
Unless you're in federal court, local laws can vary but in general, the leader of the class has to show:
- There are numerous plaintiffs who can be identified, and allowing them to join a single class action is a more efficient way of doing litigation.
- The plaintiffs' claims involve common factual or legal issues.
- The leader of the class has claims that are similar to or the same as those common legal issues and will be an appropriate representative of all the potential plaintiffs.
If you're dealing with a large gym — especially a big chain — that has violated the legal rights of many people, such as by failing to provide safe workout equipment or proper personal training, you may be able to lead or join a class action against such a company. The same goes for a gym that has ripped off numerous people with unfair cancellation procedures or surprise billing.
What You Can Recover in Court
If you win your lawsuit against the gym, the court may award you any one or more of the following remedies:
- Compensatory damages - This includes the money you lost from improper billing and/or from getting injured. Personal injury awards will include money to cover your past, present, and future medical bills, medical care, and pain and suffering.
- Punitive damages - These are intended to punish a defendant that acts with malice or fraud. If the gym deliberately defrauded you through improper billing or purposefully and knowingly created the dangerous conditions that resulted in your personal injury, a court might award you punitive damages.
- Court costs and attorney's fees - Money you spent on court filing fees and attorney billing may be recoverable if the gym membership agreement states that a winner of any dispute may collect costs and fees from the losing party.
An Attorney Can Help
As a gym member, you have rights to a safe workout environment and to fair billing treatment under your membership contract.
If you're having billing issues, make a phone call to a consumer protection attorney. On the other hand, if you're been injured, contact a personal injury lawyer who can help pursue a case against the gym.
Keep in mind that some attorneys, especially those that specialize in personal injury, may give you free in-person consultations. You might not even need to pay anything upfront if they agree to take your case on a contingency basis, which means that they'll only charge you a percentage of whatever they recover for you.
Whether you're suing for injuries or contract violations, your state will provide you with a limited period to file your case. This time limit is known as the statute of limitations, and once it expires, you'll no longer be allowed to sue the gym. Because the limitation period depends on your state and the nature of your claim, it's best to speak to an attorney sooner than later.
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