Most athletes had singed an agreement explicitly forbidding them from seeking refunds.
A federal judge has sided with the Ironman Group, saying the triathlon organizer does not owe refunds to any athletes who were unable to compete as a result of coronavirus-related event cancelations and venue closures.
According to Triathlete, the lawsuit was filed against Ironman in May. While the complaint initially had but one backer—a Colorado resident who had registered for an event in San Francisco—it quickly ballooned, with attorneys realizing that more people had lost money on cancelations.
However, the lawsuit’s core demand remained simple: recompense.
The prospective class action had demanded that Ironman refund any competitor whose event had been canceled or postponed on account of COVID.
In a court filing, attorneys said Ironman was essentially trying to make their clients bear the financial fallout of a pandemic outside everyone’s control.
“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 lawsuit stated.
The lawsuit further claimed that Ironman had shown little sympathy or care for the plaintiffs’ concerns, lost time, and floundered investments.
“Defendants’ refusal to offer refunds to plaintiff and members of the class is simply a maneuver by defendants to maintain revenue and profit, regardless of whether paying customers can actually attend, and participate in, rescheduled or postponed events,” it said.
But attorneys for the Ironman Group observed that most every athlete covered by the class action had signed rigid agreements in which they acknowledged they could not obtain or petition for refunds.
That argument was enough for U.S. District Judge Tom Barber, who said competitors had necessarily consented to an unambiguous clause.
“This is a very simple case,” Barber wrote in his decision. “No refunds means exactly what it says—no refunds.”
Barber further said that no-refunds clauses, including Ironman’s, are “fair and consistent with common sense.” In his ruling, Barber opined that race and events organizers, such as Ironman, would likely be put out of business if they were forced to issue refunds or whenever cancelations occur for reasons beyond their control.
Triathlete notes that, whenever athletes register for an event, they are usually required to sign a number of waivers, terms, and acknowledgments. And it’s common, Triathlete says, for such documents to contain a stipulation stating that would-be competitors not pursue refunds if an event is canceled due to a so-called act of God.
Most members of the class, adds Triathlete, would likely have been offered a chance to sign up for future races without having to re-pay registration fees.