DOE vs Fitness International, LLC
Alice Chen Smith obtained a defense verdict on behalf of Fitness International, LLC in a five-day jury trial against Girardi & Keese on July 29, 2014.
Plaintiff sued Fitness International, LLC for negligence and premises liability for her alleged psychological injuries arising from an unlawful sexual relationship with another fitness club member, Derek Marks, from February 2011 to June 2011. Plaintiff was 17 years old when she allegedly saw 31 year-old Marks at the club and exchanged eye contact. They met outside in the parking lot and proceeded to have a sexual relationship entirely outside of the fitness club until law enforcement intervention. Plaintiff hid the relationship from her boyfriend, family and friends, and avoided communications and physical contact with Marks inside the fitness club. Marks was criminally charged and convicted of unlawful sex with a minor.
Plaintiff claimed that because there was a prior 2006 complaint to Fitness that Marks was flirting with two female members, Fitness should have revoked his membership and if it did so then Marks and plaintiff would have never met. Fitness denied that it had a duty to revoke Marks' membership for the complaint and that it acted reasonably by documenting Marks’ membership and sending a warning letter to him, after which Fitness received no further complaints regarding Marks. Fitness denied liability on the basis that it did not have a duty to prevent two members from engaging in a secret consensual relationship off of its premises, where it did not know about the relationship, where it did not receive any complaints from plaintiff regarding Marks, and where its conduct was not a substantial factor in causing any harm to plaintiff. Fitness also had no reason to believe that Marks, who was a California Highway Patrol officer, would engage in a sexual relationship with a minor. Further, Fitness denied that plaintiff was harmed in the relationship, but rather her emotional injuries arose from not wanting the relationship to end. Plaintiff claimed emotional and psychological injuries as a result of the consensual relationship with Marks. At closing argument, plaintiff asked for $18,550 in past psychological expenses, $127,400 in future psychological expenses, $250,000-$300,000 in past pain and suffering, and $100,000 per year in future pain and suffering for 20 years, for a total of over $2.5 million.
The jury agreed with Fitness’ arguments and rendered a 10-2 defense verdict after 2 hours of deliberation.