If you haven't dealt with this problem yourself, you probably know someone who has: getting stuck with a gym membership you can't use. Frances Covington says even after a debilitating foot injury she couldn't get out of her membership at a Wilmington martial arts center. Covington's foot looks a lot better now. Several months ago when she had to undergo surgery it was much worse. The foot problems left Covington unable to use a $1,500 Tae Kwon Do course she'd just paid for in full. Covington said, "The first class I noticed that with all of the strenuous stomping, and all of the techniques that you use, I noticed that I couldn't do it." Since Covington had only attended one 30-minute class at the ATA Blackbelt Academy off College Road she called to ask for a refund. She was referred to ASF International, the Colorado-based company that handles the Blackbelt Academy's billing. Under North Carolina law a person can be released from a gym contract in the event of death or disability or if they move to a new location where they can no longer use their gym membership. Despite two different notes from the doctor, ASF refused to give Covington a refund. Attorney Thom Goolsby said, "Under the terms of the contract, with her disability, she should have been let out of the contract. It's clear from the writing in the contract." ASF first denied the claim because it was written on a doctor's prescription pad. Covington said, "They told me the doctors note was no good, when in fact, it was on the doctor's prescription pad, so I said OK, I went back to the office, let them know, and they gave me another note." The doctor's second letter reads Covington "is unable to exercise due to right foot problems." But ASF denied her claim again. We called ASF to find out why. A customer service representative explained that the company had yet to receive a note from the doctor saying Covington had a "disability," even though that's what the doctor says he was trying to convey with his letter. Attorneys we spoke to say it's unreasonable that ASF denied Covington's claim because her doctor didn't use the exact words they were looking for and customers in this situation can take the gym owner to small claims court. Luckily, after our call and a third note from the doctor that used the word "disability," ASF has agreed to give Covington a refund. The owner of the martial arts gym has also apologized for the hassle Covington experienced, saying he pays ASF a lot of money to handle his billing, and doesn't appreciate them giving customers a hard time who have a legitimate reason to cancel.
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