Local trampoline park wins again on appeal

By Thomas Franz

BridgeTower Media Newswires

DETROIT-A Michigan Court of Appeals panel has affirmed an Oakland Circuit Court ruling that granted a motion for summary disposition to a trampoline park after a man was paralyzed after trying to perform a backflip.

In Miller v. Airtime Trampoline Park Troy, the COA panel determined that the plaintiff's argument that missing trampoline springs were the proximate cause for his injuries was speculative.

Judges Jane M. Beckering, Mark J. Cavanagh and Amy Ronayne Krause affirmed the ruling.

Background

Plaintiffs Michael and McKea Miller went to Airtime Troy on July 6, 2013.

After jumping for some time, Michael, then 36 years old, successfully completed a backflip in the "High Fidelity" area.

A few seconds later, he attempted a second backflip, but couldn't complete the maneuver. He was paralyzed as a result of the failed jump.

The plaintiffs filed claims of negligence and premises liability against Airtime Troy, arguing that the defendant used defective springs in its trampoline park and that missing or broken springs caused a "soft spot" in the area that Michael jumped from for his second backflip.

According to the COA's opinion, the plaintiffs also argued that Michael was permitted to jump in the "High Fidelity" area, which was designed for 8-to-13-year-old participants, and that he was not informed of the risks of jumping on a trampoline.

Airtime moved for summary disposition.

Strategy

Airtime argued that the dangers of using a trampoline were open and obvious, that an average user of ordinary intelligence would have been able to discover that a possibility of falling existed and that Michael was not required to confront a dangerous hazard.

The panel said that Airtime also asserted Michael consented to certain risks inherent in jumping on a trampoline and having a supervisor present would not have removed the danger of Michael falling when he attempted his backflip.

Airtime further argued the plaintiff failed to provide evidence that the trampoline Michael used for his second flip was missing or had broken springs. It said that claim was based on the speculative opinion of the plaintiffs' proposed expert, Dr. Marc Rabinoff.

To counter Airtime, the plaintiffs' counsel used an inspection report prepared by Rabinoff in May 2017, as well as testimony from William Wannemacher, a co-owner of Airtime, to argue that broken springs were a consistent maintenance issue at the trampoline park during 2013.

They asserted that Rabinoff concluded after watching footage of Michael's second backflip that a soft spot caused by missing or broken springs prevented him from gaining the required lift to make his rotation.

In granting summary disposition in favor of Airtime, the trial court found that the plaintiffs failed to present evidence that created an issue of fact as to the plaintiffs' assertion that Michael's injury was proximately caused by missing or broken springs.

The COA cited the trial court's opinion in noting that Rabinoff acknowledged in his deposition that he had no idea if there was anything wrong with the trampoline, and since his report came four years after the accident his observations are not relevant.

Wannemacher repeatedly denied there were issues with the trampolines. He agreed that about 20 springs broke each day but said there were about 10,000 springs in the whole park. Wannemacher testified that broken springs were repaired twice per week, and that he had "no idea" whether the trampoline in question had broken springs at the time of Michael's injuries.

The court concluded that the plaintiffs' theory was based entirely on speculation and agreed with the defendants that surveillance video shows Michael was injured after landing on his neck while trying to land a backflip.

Attorney's comments

Defense counsel Parisa R. Gold of Johnston, Sztykiel, & Hunt PC in Troy said surveillance footage of the incident was key to the case.

"A lot of times there isn't surveillance video and we don't know how this actually happened. The plaintiff testified he was not performing a backflip, which contradicted the surveillance video. I definitely think the video and the assumption of risk were key," Gold said.

Plaintiff's counsel Clarence B. Tucker of Clarence B. Tucker Sr. PLLC in Southfield said he plans to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

"The core of the case is that there's â?¦ transcript testimony from the trampoline owner (Wannemacher) admitting he had a lot of broken springs. The springs are hidden. They're underneath the mat so you can't see them," Tucker said.

Tucker added that Rabinoff's testimony indicated that the plaintiff went too deep into the trampoline on his second flip attempt.

"Rabinoff noticed on the second jump [that] he went deep into the mat, which is a signal there's some springs missing. The code in the industry is the springs are the engine of the trampoline. On that second jump, it was clear he went too deep into the mat to make his rotation," Tucker said.

He also said that statutes required Airtime to inspect the safety of the trampolines daily and maintain reports of those inspections.

"The industry standard requires them to make sure the trampolines are safe on a daily basis. That means on a daily basis they were supposed to inspect those trampolines to see if there were any missing springs," Tucker said. "In our case, they were required to keep inspection records every week. There were no inspection reports [since] Feb. 2013. The injury took place in July, 2013."

Gold said the plaintiff's argument that there had to be broken springs didn't make sense because Michael was able to complete his first jump.

"If it was defective, he wouldn't have been able to complete the first one," he said.

Gold also said that the plaintiff's expert did not do any engineering or biomechanical analysis of the trampoline.

"It wasn't even established that he saw broken springs underneath the particular trampoline mat the plaintiff had jumped on," Gold said. I think the court recognized the plaintiff's arguments for proximate cause were purely speculative and based on conjecture."

Published: Fri, Aug 02, 2019