BOSTON — A broken femur, a fractured tibia and fibula, and a series of sprained and broken ankles are among the recurring injuries 25 Investigates found in several lawsuits against Sky Zone trampoline parks in Massachusetts and across the nation.
In many cases, the injuries occurred after jumpers got their feet caught between the mat and the trampoline’s metal frame, according to the complaints reviewed by 25 Investigates. Another common scenario involved small children getting hurt after larger children landed on top of them.
Investigative Reporter Eric Rasmussen uncovered videos and internal records from Sky Zone that lawyers say reveal hidden dangers and raise questions about whether the company is doing enough to keep customers safe.
“The attitude toward the injuries prior to our [client’s] accident shows me a cavalier disregard for the danger,” said Marty Rosenthal, lawyer for 17-year old Owen Mooney who broke his tibia and fibula while jumping at Sky Zone Boston in 2011. “From our point of view, it's more than a broken leg case. It's four surgeries, a year out of his life, it's some permanent impairment and it's pretty willful or reckless indifference to this hazardous design.”
Other attorneys who spoke to 25 Investigates say the pattern of foot and leg injuries indicates there could be flaws in the design of the equipment.
“The trampolines are inter-connected, and they are next to each other and these trampoline parks encourage people to jump from trampoline to trampoline and you can’t really count on kids and even adults to jump right on the center,” said David Chazen, a New Jersey attorney who is representing seven people who were injured at Sky Zone parks.
A Wareham teenager ended up in a wheelchair and on crutches “unable to engage in his usual activities” for almost a year after fracturing his tibia and fibula when his “right foot landed on the hard surface underneath covering the trampoline frame” at Sky Zone Boston, according to court documents.
The lawsuit alleges “the trampolines on premises were defective and unreasonably dangerous.”
Sky Zone’s own incident reports highlight the problem. In report after report, customers describe injuries involving either trampoline mats or the protective pads around the metal frame.
Mats and pads appear to be of concern for Sky Zone too. An employee manual obtained by 25 Investigates warns workers to “BE AWARE OF THE PADS.”
“You are talking about a pretty vast surface of a series of trampolines and I don't know how many people they let on them but a lot of people all jumping at once,” said David Duncan, one of the other attorneys representing Mooney. “They are all kids, so they are all jumping around on a trampoline and the rules [at Sky Zone} are pretty, pretty primitive. But there is nothing about Watch Out you might slide underneath this and break your leg.”
A celebration for a friend’s birthday quickly turned into agony for four-year-old Jeremiah Lang and his parents after a bigger jumper ended up falling on top of him during a game of trampoline dodge ball.
“Jeremiah was on his knees, just sitting on his knees. Then he screams ‘Daddy, Mommy’ and we went over and he’s trying to push himself up with his two hands and he couldn’t,” recalled Deslyn Audain, Jeremiah’s mother. “His dad picks him up and he can’t straighten his leg.”
He ended up at a New Jersey hospital with a broken femur that left him in a cast from his hip to his toes. He required several surgeries and had pins put into his leg.
“I don’t want to see any another child go through what my child went through,” said Audain.
At the five Sky Zone locations in Massachusetts, 224 calls for medical emergencies were reported in the last seven years, according to police and EMS data obtained by 25 Investigates. Most of the calls involved an injured foot or leg, the data shows.
Medical emergency calls made between 2011 and Nov. 2018.
Sky Zone Response
Requests for comment from the owner of Sky Zone’s Massachusetts franchise were declined, but a public relations firm for the company e-mailed 25 Investigates a statement:
“At Sky Zone, the safety of our Guests is our top priority. We are committed to ongoing evaluations to promote Guest safety. We take several measures to reduce these risks such as daily equipment and area spot checks and educate our Guests about safety in our parks. We take all allegations seriously and analyze any incident internally and consult with third party industry experts to continuously learn from them and create the safest environment possible for Guests.”
In many of the cases reviewed by 25 Investigates, Sky Zone settled out of court with injury victims, often requiring plaintiffs to sign a non-disclosure or confidentiality agreement as part of the deal. In the Mooney case, which is still ongoing, court documents show Sky Zone counter sued the non-profit agency that took Mooney and other residents of a group home to Sky Zone Boston.
“We found out through discovery that they’ve had many very similar injuries, in the same manner as our resident experienced there,” said Lisa Scanlon, board member of Bay State Community Services, a social services organization. “Here’s this for-profit company that knowingly has all these injuries that are taking place at their locations, and they are doing nothing about it, they are not providing any support for the people who do get injured there, and they just go and sue non-profit organizations that bring people to their location.”
Sky Zone requires customers to sign a waiver and view a brief safety video before entering the trampoline court. The video reviews some of the hazards of jumping on a trampoline such as doing flips, somersaults and “double bouncing,” but there is no mention of potential dangers posed by mats and pads.
“Frankly, I'm not really sure that people are aware of what dangers they're facing going into one of these parks,” said Rosenthal, Mooney’s attorney.
At Springfield College’s Men’s Gymnastics Team training facility, anyone who jumps on a trampoline must be trained on the floor first, in addition to warming up at the start of each session. The training period depends on the skill level, according to Matt Davis, team coach and a former All-American in gymnast at Springfield.
“A big thing with gymnastics is learning how to fall safely because falls do happen,” said Davis. “If you jump the wrong way it really pushes you to a different spot in the air that you might not be familiar with and not know how to control the landing, and that's where we do see injuries.”
Chazen, the attorney representing four-year-old Lang, believes these injuries could be prevented if Sky Zone enforced their own rules. Several of his youngest clients were hurt when larger kids jumping on the same trampoline landed on them, which goes against the company’s safety rules.
An internal memo to Sky Zone employees says they should “separate by size.” But several videos obtained by 25 Investigates show small children frequently on trampolines with bigger customers.
“So, even when they have rules, they are not paying attention to them, they are not enforcing them. The injuries that are just happening, they are unnecessary, and their business model is flawed,” said Chazen.
The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly discourages the use of trampolines by young children. The organization states that most injuries occur when more than one person is jumping and can include sprains, strains and broken bones as well as head and neck injuries and concussions.
In Massachusetts, the trampoline park industry is largely unregulated. No state agency currently has oversight of the popular facilities. There are more than 600 trampoline parks across the nation.
© 2020 Cox Media Group