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subject topic: Fitness First, Sickness Second post replypost new topic
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joined: 11 January 2007
location: Australia
online status: offline
posts: 7724
posted: 08 August 2008 at 12:45am | IP logged quote Pollyanna

Gym giant Fitness First has taken a former member, who could not work out due to medical problems, to court - all for the sake of $200.

The Supreme Court today ruled that Suh Yoke Chong, who suffers from lupus, thyroid problems and sleep apnoea should not be refunded a $200 cancellation fee after she was unable to continue her membership due to blurred vision and headaches.

Ms Chong, 54, who signed a contract with Fitness First on April 9, 2007, after she had put on weight due to steroid medication she was taking, took her case to the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal.

She told the tribunal that, during her conversation with the Fitness First consultant, he gave her the terms and conditions and told her to "sign here, here and here".

"The reason I told him [about my medical condition] is that I hope that he will be honest with me, that whether my condition can do the gym and he told me that, 'Oh, you find the right place, this is the best place to lose weight.' "

I can imagine that. Often the signing of these contracts and their details are a formality.

Ms Chong signed the contract without reading the terms and conditions, which state that a cancellation fee of $200 applies if membership is terminated within the first two months and after a 15-day cooling-off period.

The tribunal ruled in September last year that Ms Chong be reimbursed that money.

It found that "a valid contract required the parties have [a] ... meeting of the minds, in that they each fully know and understand the terms and conditions of the agreement."

However, Associate Justice Joanne Harrison today found that the tribunal member erred in the law on that point and that Ms Chong was bound by the conditions of the contract. She made no order as to costs.

... Ms Chong said she told Fitness First about her condition before signing her contract but the gym only encouraged her to join. After a month, as her dizziness worsened and her vision blurred, she reported the problem to staff. She said they were not interested.

Ms Chong was shocked last July when she received a summons to the Supreme Court, with her as defendant, the gym as plaintiff.

She entered no defence, advised by legal aid that costs could be awarded against against her if she did so. "I don't want to remember anything more about Fitness First. It's very, very stressful for the whole year," she said.

Ms Chong may have found it all stressful but she has to take responsibility for the fact that she played hardball and shouldn't have been surprised to meet resistance. I wouldn't have bothered going to the CTTT myself, especially if I didn't feel well enough to cope with the stresses of legal conflict. Sometimes it's easier to cut your losses.

On the other hand, this case may turn out to be a poor business move by FF. They come across as uncaring and ungracious, not prepared to cut a sick woman a bit of slack. It could be said that they might have cut their losses as well, especially since they'd be aware that during the "courtship" phase of this kind of business relationship all the emphasis is on the wunnerful prospects, not the possibility that things might go pear-shaped.

It looks as thought there were two losers in this case.

Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils -- Hector Berlioz
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joined: 05 July 2005
location: Australia
online status: offline
posts: 1738
posted: 09 August 2008 at 12:17pm | IP logged quote SmilingPolitely

Fitness First are a horrible organisation. My gripes include:

Their first point of contact with me after i'd signed up and paid my annual membership fee was a very coldly-worded, aggressive legal letter stating all the things i was and was not allowed to do - bordering on threatening. 'Hello, Welcome to Fitness First' would have been nice.

Eleven months into his 1 year contract my partner cancelled his membership using their online form (he joined a month before me). Then he rang them to confirm that his membership would not be renewed, but they said they had no record of that. He asked if they could please cancel it now. They said 'yes'. Then he received a letter saying that his membership would be automatically renewed. He went into the branch, enquired as to his membership status, was told that he was still a full member and that they had no record of him cancelling. Then he threatened legal action if they did not provide him with written verification of his cancelled membership right there and then. They complied.

I rang shortly after this and asked for my membership to be cancelled at the end of my one year contract period too, and I asked them in very specific terms to send me confirmation of my cancelled membership. Predictably, despite promising to do so, no letter was forthcoming. Then when I went into the centre itself, they had no record of my cancellation. I also threatened legal action if they did not give me written verification of my wish to cancel my membership. They complied.

Who knows how many people haven't been quite so forceful and persistent and have found themselves legally-bound to pay for another year's membership...

Those who are most often right are also the most likely to admit when they're wrong.
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