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In Lawsuit Over Refunds, Judge Sides with Ironman

— January 11, 2021

A lawsuit over refunds was recently settled between Ironman and some disgruntled athletes.

U.S. District Judge Tom Barber recently granted a request from Ironman and the World Triathlon Corporation for a summary judgment, ending a proposed class-action lawsuit “over the lack of refunds for races canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Settlement agreement graphic
Settlement agreement graphic; image courtesy of Clker-Free-Vector-Images via Pixabay,

The suit was originally filed over allegations that the company and its subsidiary, Competitor Group, “owe athletes refunds for events canceled or postponed due to COVID-19.” The suit, which was filed at the end of May in the Middle District of Florida, stated:

“Defendants should not be permitted to force Plaintiff and members of the class to bear the financial burden of the events canceled as a result of COVID-19.”

The suit was filed on behalf of Mikaela Ellenwood, a resident of Colorado who “had registered for the Rock n’ Roll San Francisco half-marathon, which was scheduled for April 5.” She had planned to make a little trip out of the event and purchased flights and accommodations, according to the suit. However, the case was canceled on March 14, and Ellenwood, like all the other registrants, “had their entries deferred to the next year and were not given the option of a refund.”

Ironman officials confirmed and said the company’s policy “for COVID-related cancelations or postponements does not include refunds to athletes.” The same officials confirmed that “until an event is officially canceled or postponed, the standard non-Covid cancellation policy is still in place.” While those policies might not vary from race to race, athletes aren’t typically allowed to “transfer or defer without paying a fee or losing a portion of their entry fee.” Additionally, athletes “cannot get a refund unless they’ve purchased registration insurance.”

When a race is postponed or canceled due to COVID-19, athletes can transfer to a different event or defer to the following year. This is why many athletes are filing complaints. Not only do they have to wait for an official decision to postpone or cancel a race, but they “feel they are not being given enough flexibility once a decision is made.

Morgan Nixon was one of those athletes who was a bit disgruntled with the policies. She was supposed to complete her first Ironman in St. George, Utah. She even had a dozen friends and family flying out to watch her and booked an Airbnb. When the decision was finally made to postpone the race to this upcoming fall, “she was given three days to decide if she wanted to do the rescheduled race in September or defer to an event the next year…Because St. George will not be a full Ironman next year, she was given a specific other Ironman race in another city on another date as her option.”

When commenting on the matter, Nixon said it was all very stressful and added that “no one really knows what’s going to happen…Now, I don’t want to participate in Ironman in general, they’ve gotten me so angry…There’s a lack of care for what people are actually going through.”

Unfortunately, this type of lawsuit was always going to be difficult to win. According to Jennifer Poppe, an attorney specializing in class-action cases, depending on what athletes agreed to during the registration phase, lawsuits like the one against Ironman are hard to win. Poppe said, “when an athlete registers for an event, there are a number of waivers and terms and conditions they accept and agree to.” For example, it’s “common to acknowledge that you will not be refunded in the event of a cancellation due to weather or due to an act of God—commonly referred to as a ‘force majeure’ clause.” Poppe added, “the complaint filed in the case does not say what terms and conditions the athletes agreed to when they registered.”

In the end, lawyers representing Ironman argued for the case’s dismissal because Nixon and other athletes “signed a contract acknowledging no refunds would be given.” The judge agreed and wrote, “This is a very simple case. No refunds means exactly what it says — no refunds.”


Judge Rules in Favor of Ironman in Lawsuit Over Refunds

Class-Action Lawsuit Filed Against Ironman Over Lack Of Refunds

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