Two years ago, 4-year-old Colin Holst drowned in a Life Time Fitness swimming pool surrounded by adults and lifeguards.
After being hit with a $25 million wrongful death lawsuit by Colin’s parents, Life Time is suing Colin’s mother and two of her friends, accusing them of trespassing, fraud, and breach of contract. The company claims that Jana Holst, Jennie Stafford, and Deborah Stack did not follow the gym’s guest policy and that the women should pay damages, court costs, and all other expenses related to the lawsuits surrounding Colin’s death.
Stack and Stafford’s lawyer, Damon Robertson , calls the lawsuit outrageous.
“I cant tell you how flabbergasted I am that they would bring these two single mothers into this case,” he said. “To hold them responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys fees galls me to no end.”
Life Time officials declined to discuss the lawsuit.
“Unfortunately, I’m not at liberty to comment on any matter of pending litigation,” said Jason Thunstrom, spokesman for the Minnesota-based company.
Jeff and Jana Holst filed their lawsuit against Life Time in 2009.
According to the family’s suit, which is set for trial in May, Colin and his mother went to the club at 7101 S. MoPac Blvd. (Loop 1) on June 13, 2008 . They were there to pick up Colin’s sister, who was attending a day camp offered by the gym. While there, the family went swimming with Stafford, Stack, and their children, the lawsuit says.
About 5:30 p.m., Colin began having trouble swimming and started frantically splashing in distress, according to the Holsts’ lawsuit.
Not only did [the lifeguards] fail to notice Colin Holst struggling in distress in the kiddie pool and fail to render him aid, but they also failed to notice him floating, face down, on top of the pool for several minutes after he was overcome by the water, the lawsuit claims.
Colin was removed from the water after another patron noticed him floating. The lifeguards also failed to call EMS immediately and delayed CPR for several minutes, the family’s lawsuit says.
Life Time denies all the allegations. In its own lawsuit, it blames Jana Holst for the death, saying she was at the pool during the incident and wasn’t watching her son closely enough.
Meanwhile, the company states in its suit that the Holsts never had permission to be at the gym.
According to court documents filed by Life Time, the family did not have memberships at the club and Jana Holst was not officially authorized to enter the club. Although she signed in at the front desk, she did not follow other guest policies such as taking a tour and showing a photo ID, the suit claims.
Stack and Stafford should have reported the family to club authorities, the lawsuit says.
Additionally, Life Time claims that Stafford and Stack’s membership agreements specifically state that the company is not liable for any costs associated with injuries sustained by their guests.
“Blaming other parties is typical in civil cases because it can help lower damages awarded by a jury,” said David Robertson, a law professor at the University of Texas (not related to Damon Robertson).
“It can also be used as an intimidation tactic,” Robertson said. “Life Time’s claims of fraud and trespassing seem thin,” he said. “And the chances of collecting major damages from the women is unlikely,” he said.
“Life Time’s effort to sue its own members on fraud and trespassing claims is highly unusual,” said Austin civil lawyer Randy Howry, who has been practicing for about 25 years.
“And its a risky move to play in front of a jury,” he said. “Blaming a sympathetic mother for her child’s death may repel jurors,” Howry said.
“When you start suing somebody and start seeking damages, thats a whole different thing, something most people aren’t going to think fondly of,” he said. “And youd better be prepared for the consequences.”