By Michael Millstein

 

Throughout the pandemic, only the rise of participating in online fitness platforms has rivaled the spike in adhering to health-safety precautions. With gyms closed, leaving limited options for staying in shape, many across the world have turned to platforms such as Peloton, iFit, and many more. In spite of the simplistic nature of merely hopping on an exercise bike to attend an online class, many legal complexities have begun to bombard this rapidly growing industry.[1] In fact, some of these risks are even greater for online trainers than for in-person trainers.[2]

One of the primary concerns for online platforms is the exposure to further personal jurisdiction reaches.[3] By providing paid memberships for those wishing to participate, Peloton (for example), may subject itself to facing a lawsuit for an injury to a rider in Seattle, Washington despite having its headquarters in New York.[4] Furthermore, the trainer who led the class in which the injury occurred may be sued jointly and severally along with the employer.[5] Although Peloton, a massive corporation with the means necessary to defend itself, could make defending itself across the country feasible, its trainers may not have such fortune.[6] Part of what makes this such an interesting shift in the realm of law and technology is that previously, if one were to merely enter a bike studio in New York and suffer an injury there, then that is where personal jurisdiction would be appropriate barring an exception.[7] Therefore, this new online now exposes companies to further global liability. Nevertheless, the economic benefits of pursuing this business model do not cause enough trepidation to inhibit its expansion.[8]

On that note, prior to the pandemic, the online fitness industry was valued at $6bn.[9] For comparison purposes, the in-person fitness industry was valued at $96.7bn prior to the pandemic.[10] Despite this vast divergence in success, the online fitness industry is currently projected to reach a valuation of approximately $59bn by 2027.[11] Given the abundance of greater legal complexities in the online fitness realm than with the in-person realm, an increase in legal issues may run parallel with the expansion of the online fitness industry. Consequently, as our world shifts even more virtual, so too may the legal industry – and with it, job opportunities.

In addition to the personal jurisdiction concerns, non-compete agreements complicate online fitness.[12] One common element included in non-compete agreements is a restriction on geographic proximity for competition.[13] For example, if a gym in Virginia opted to remain open throughout the pandemic and had a non-compete with a former trainer, barring this individual from providing training services for clients in the region, online training may violate the agreement.[14] However, acquiring knowledge of the breach of this restrictive covenant is highly unlikely, thus generating two legal problems. The first is whether or not this constitutes a breach.[15] Second, and perhaps more complicated, is whether or not a failure to report a breach violates a statute of limitations, assuming the statute does not begin to run until notice of the breach.[16]

Despite the exciting leap towards a brave new world, the emergence of technology, and our societal immersion in it, invites a plethora of legal issues not previously considered. Although some positives may come from this, such as more job opportunities, there is also a significant danger associated with it. If the creation of new law cannot keep up with the growth of technologically based industries, thus leaving an abundance of gray area, this may leave both consumers and businesses extremely unprotected.[17] With little to no guidance on what may cause legal liability, we may start to witness more risk-conscious behavior – perhaps subsequently stunting progress.

 

[1] See generally Anna Rabe, LEGAL RISKS AND ISSUES TO CONSIDER FOR FITNESS TRAINERS WORKING ONLINE, Fit Legally, https://fitlegally.com/legal-risks-issues-consider-fitness-trainers-working-online/ (last visited Jan. 22, 2022) (discussing a myriad of legal issues arising from the online fitness world).

[2] See Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.; Betsy Kim, Peloton. Moves HQ, Expanding Six Times in Size to 312,000 SF, Globest (Nov. 19, 2018, 5:59pm), https://www.globest.com/2018/11/19/peloton-moves-hq-expanding-six-times-in-size-to-312000-sf/.

[5] Vicarious Liability, Corporate Financial Institute, https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/knowledge/other/vicarious-liability/ (last visited Jan. 22, 2022).

[6] See generally Peloton, Craft, https://craft.co/peloton-interactive (presenting key numbers in assessing Peloton’s market reach such as revenue (last visited Jan. 22, 2022).

[7] What is personal jurisdiction? Why is it important?, Womens Law, https://www.womenslaw.org/laws/preparing-court-yourself/court-system-basics/personal-jurisdiction/basic-info-and-definitions-1 (last visited Jan. 22, 2022).

[8] Fitness Industry Statistics 2022, Wellness Creative Co (Jan. 5, 2022), https://www.wellnesscreatives.com/fitness-industry-statistics-growth/.

[9] Id.

[10] Smiljanic Stasha, 19+ Statistics and Facts About the Fitness Industry, Policy Advice (Feb. 14, 2021), https://policyadvice.net/insurance/insights/fitness-industry-statistics/#:~:text=The%20global%20gym%20industry%20is,184%20gym%20members%20in%20total.

[11] Fitness Industry Statistics, supra note 7.

[12] Rabe, supra note 1.

[13] Adam Hayes, Non-Compete Agreement, Investopedia (June 29, 2021), https://www.investopedia.com/terms/n/noncompete-agreement.asp.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Christina Majaski et al., Statute of Limitations, Investopedia (Mar. 29, 2021), https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/statute-of-limitations.asp.

[17] Rabe, supra note 1.

 

Image source: https://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/peloton-recalls-pedals-27-000-bikes-after-reports-injuries-n1243564

css.php