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How to sue a gym in small claims court

Camila Lopez - Suing a Business - August 11, 2022

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Do you have a dispute with a gym over a refund, purchase, or charges to your account? You have several options, including suing the gym in small claims court.

In this article, learn about:

  • Common types of small claims lawsuits against gyms.

  • What to do before suing a gym in small claims court.

  • How much does it cost to sue a gym in small claims?

  • How much can you sue a gym for in small claims?

  • How to file a small claims lawsuit against a gym.

Common types of small claims lawsuits against a gym

We often receive the question, can I sue a gym in small claims? The answer is yes as long as the dispute is within the small claims limit of the court you intend to file in.

Here are some examples of small claims lawsuits against gyms:

  • Failure to cancel your membership. For example, you requested the gym cancel your membership but they never canceled it.

  • Failure to refund your account. For example, the gym agreed to issue you a refund but never did.

  • Charges to your credit card. For example, you canceled your gym membership and the gym kept charging your credit card.

What to do before suing a gym in small claims court

Send a Demand Letter

A demand letter is a letter that outlines a set of requests. For example, in your demand letter, you can request that the gym refund a purchase you made and explain why you are requesting the refund.  

If you eventually decide to sue in small claims court, you are generally expected to first request your money or property back before you can file the lawsuit. In fact, in some states, it is required that you send a demand letter before you can move forward with your lawsuit. While you can request your money or property back orally, it is recommended you do so in writing in the form of a demand letter, this letter can serve as useful evidence in the event that you end up in court.

What to include in the demand letter?

Unsure of what to include in your demand letter to the gym? Here are some important points to include:

  • How much money you are owed.

  • Why you are owed money.

  • Your contact information.

  • Where to send payment.

  • State that if they don't respond, you intend to sue.

  • Give them a few days to respond (usually about 7 to 14 days).

How much does it cost to sue a gym in small claims?

So how much are you going to spend by suing a gym in small claims court?

Court Filing Fees

The amount you will pay to file a small claims lawsuit depends on where you are suing the gym. The court filing fees vary by state, sometimes even by county or city. You can expect to pay between $0 to $100 to file the lawsuit. If you cannot afford to pay court fees, you can ask the court to waive the fees as most courts have a fee waiver program for those who need it.  

Serving Costs

Once the lawsuit is filed, you have to notify the gym that you have sued them. This is called "serving." Serving Costs can range from $0-$200 depending on what serving methods are available and which serving method you choose is best for you.

More on who to serve on behalf of the gym below. If you win, you can request the court to direct the gym to pay for your court fees and serving costs; it is up to the judge to decide if the gym should be held responsible for these fees.

How much can you sue a gym for in small claims?

The maximum amount you can sue a gym for depends mainly on the state and court you intend to file in, this is because small claims court limits vary depending on where you are filing. To find out exactly how much you can request, search for the small claims limit of your court, this limit will likely be somewhere from $2,500 to $25,000. Note, if you are a sole proprietor, you count as an individual.

By suing in small claims you are generally agreeing to waive any amount over the maximum amount you can sue for, even if you are owed more. For example, if the gym owes you $15,000, and you decide to sue in small claims in a court where the limit is $10,000, you are waiving suing for an additional $5,000. Meaning that you will win a maximum of $10,000 and lose out on the right for the remaining $5,000.

While you may be missing out on the full amount you are owed, there are practical benefits to suing in small claims instead of suing in "regular court."

Here are some of the benefits:

  1. Court filing fees are generally cheaper in small claims than in other courts.

  2. The process is usually faster in small claims than in other courts as your hearing will usually be scheduled 30-70 days after you file the lawsuit. Given that this timeline varies greatly court by court if you want to know more accurate information make sure to check your court's website.

  3. Lawyers are generally not allowed in small claims which helps keep the costs of suing low.  

How to file a small claims lawsuit against a gym

Step 1: Identify the legal name of the gym, its address, and its "agent of service of process."  

In order to sue in small claims, you need to be able to correctly name the person or business you are suing. Identifying whether the gym is doing business as an LLC or Corporation is very important. Alternatively, the business may be owned by a person, known as a "sole proprietorship."

  • Look for names the gym uses on contracts, receipts, or the storefront. Look through any documents you have from the gym and write down any potential names you have from the gym. Follow the steps below using the names you have written down.

  • Fictitious Business Names. Many gyms use a name other than their legal name to do business. They do this for marketing purposes usually because their legal name is too long. A name other than the legal name is called a fictitious business name. Each county has a database of fictitious business names where you can search for the real legal entity name.

  • Business License Search. Using the address for the gym, you can search for their business license. Each city has a database of business licenses. Call the business license department for the city where the gym is located in.

  • Search on your state’s Secretary of State's website. The gym may be registered as a corporation or LLC. You will need to identify the name of the corporation or LLC. It is important to identify the agent for service of process (someone selected by the corporation or LLC to receive legal documents on its behalf) as this is the person who will be served.

Step 2: Complete any required forms or court procedures on how to file in your local small claims court 

  • The exact starting form or procedure can vary depending on your court.

  • To initiate the filing of the lawsuit go to the court's website or reach out to the clerk of the court for more information.

  • You will also need to research any forms or provide affidavits to the court.  

Step 3: Serve the gym

If the gym is owned by an individual (not registered as a corporation or LLC):

Once you file your small claims court lawsuit, the next step is to notify the gym that they have been sued. This is called "service of process" (also known as "service"). 

You must serve the gym at an appropriate time before the small claims court hearing (sometimes you are required to serve at least 30 days before the hearing, to learn about how much time you have to give research on your court’s website or call the court clerk). 

There are several potential ways you might be able to serve the gym through, including by having a friend serve, hiring a process server, or hiring the sheriff. Your court will indicate which of these options are available to you. You cannot serve your own lawsuit.

If the gym is a corporation or LLC:

Remember, you will be serving the gym's "agent for service of process" as listed on your state’s Secretary of State's website. 

What is a small claims court hearing like?

Small claims hearings in small claims are informal and most hearings last around 15 minutes. While many disputes settle before the hearing, here is what to expect if your lawsuit does not settle.

The hearing:

  • Right before the hearing, the judge will ask you and the gym's representative to show each other the evidence that you will later show the judge.

  • The judge will ask you why you are suing.

  • The judge will ask the gym's representative to tell them their side of the story.

  • The hearing will last around 15 minutes.

  • The judge will ask you to show them the evidence you brought. Sometimes the judge will keep the evidence. Other times, you will get the evidence right back.

  • Very rarely a judge will tell you whether you won or lost at the hearing. Instead, the judge will tell you that their decision will be mailed to you (which usually takes a few weeks to two months or so).

This is a general guideline for what you can expect at your small claims hearing, although you should expect the procedure to vary by court.

Chief Legal Architect & Co-Founder @ People Clerk. Camila is an attorney, consumer advocate, and certified mediator. Her passion is breaking down complicated legal processes so that people without an attorney can get justice.

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