Trampolines were designed to be a specialized piece of training equipment for adults.
In 1945, George Nissen, a competitive gymnast, patented the modern trampoline. Nissen designed the trampoline as a training tool for acrobats and gymnasts and later promoted it for military aviator training. The recreational use of trampolines is a more recent development, driven primarily by the increased availability of cheaper trampolines sold for home use.
Even more recently, commercial trampoline parks (“jump parks”) have begun to appear around the country, including in Georgia. These parks target children with their marketing. Consider the following commercial blurb from Sky Zone Sports, which has recently opened a location in Suwanee, Georgia:
“Get ready for Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park, the creator of the world’s first all-trampoline, walled playing court (U.S. Patent #5,624,122) – perfect for just about any age, shape or physical ability.” ~ from Sky Zone’s website (retrieved September 28, 2012).
How safe are trampolines truly? Are they truly “perfect for just about any age, shape or physical ability?” Not according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has repeatedly warned parents and anyone else who cares about child safety to keep kids off trampolines. According to an AAP report released this week, Emergency Departments across the country see nearly 100,000 injuries from trampolines each year. It’s not just at jump parks that kids get hurt; it’s at homes also.
The typical ways that children get hurt on trampolines include the following:
- Too many children on the trampoline. Multiple users is a safety violation. If children are going to be allowed to use the trampoline at all, only one child should jump at a time. Of particular concern is when older children (or adults) are allowed on the trampoline along with younger children. Several studies have shown that approximately 3/4 of trampoline injuries occur when multiple people were using the trampoline. The smallest children were up to 14 times more likely to sustain injury relative to their heavier playmates. Also, heavier users create more rebound of the mat and springs and greater upward forces than smaller children can generate on their own. These forces must be absorbed by the falling body and can actually be greater than the forces a child would experience landing on solid ground!
- Falls from the trampoline. This is an obvious one. What is not so intuitive is that the studies show that safety nets do not necessarily decrease the risk of children suffering falls.
- Impact with the trampoline frame or springs. Again, surprisingly, the studies do NOT show that padding on the frames or springs necessarily decrease the risk of a child being injured.
- Colliding with other children in mid air or on the way up or down.
- Somersaults/flips. Neck and head injuries can easily result. Kill joy as it may sound, somersaults and flips are a bad idea for children on trampolines.
Typical injuries children sustain include:
- Ankle injuries are the most common form of injury children sustain while jumping on a trampoline. This can range from a minor sprain up to a surgical fracture injury.
- Head and neck injuries. These are the most serious child injuries typically seen resulting from trampoline accidents. Cervical spine injuries can be caused by falls off the trampoline but also commonly occur on the trampoline mat when failed somersaults or flips cause hyperflexion or hyperextension of the cervical spine. These injuries tend to be the most catastrophic of all trampoline injuries suffered.
Atypical (unusual) injuries children can sustain on trampolines include:
- Trampoline-related fractures of the proximal tibia (upper part of the shin bone) have been observed in children 6 years and younger. These injuries occurred when young children were sharing the trampoline with larger individuals.
- Manubriosternal Dislocations/Sternal Injuries (injuries involving the child’s breastbone). Sternal injuries have traditionally been described as a result of major trauma. These occur after thoracic hyperflexion injuries on the trampoline. They typically heal uneventfully; however, surgical stabilization may be necessary if pain persists.
- Vertebral Artery Dissection (a flap like tear of the inner lining of vertebral artery, which is located in the neck and is the artery that supplies blood to the brain). The AAP report discussed above mentions several cases of vertebral artery dissection presenting 12 to 24 hours after a neck injury on a trampoline. Vertebral artery dissections are the result of abrupt cervical hyperextension and rotation. These are often devastating injuries and may produce lasting complications.
- Atlanto-axial Subluxation (an injury where the vertebrae in the neck spine become misaligned as a result of trauma and may compress the spinal cord, leading to damage to the spinal cord and adjacent nerves. There have been 2 reported cases of trampoline-related atlanto-axial subluxation in children.
One important legal consideration with child trampoline injuries is that some homeowner’s insurance companies exclude trampoline injuries from coverage.
This is because trampolines are viewed as an “attractive nuisance” (something on a property that may entice children into harm) and therefore trampoline related claims are sometimes not covered by a standard insurance contract. Homeowners who own trampolines may have to obtain a “rider” (a rider is a schedule or piece of paper attached to an insurance policy that provides the policyholder extra protection beyond the provisions contained in a standard insurance agreement) that expressly provides coverage for trampoline related claims.
Contacting an attorney to investigate the availability of liability insurance that could compensate you and your child for medical bills and other items of damages is advisable.
Another legal consideration if your child has been injured on a trampoline is the possibility of a product liability claim against the manufacturer of the trampoline. It has been observed that there has been a decrease in the quality of recreational trampoline equipment over the past several decades. Consider this: according to the International Trampoline Industry Association, trampolines sold in 1989 had an expected life of 10 years while the expected life of trampolines sold in 2004 was only 5 years. We are seeing a degradation in the quality of the trampolines available for the recreational market.
A legal claim against a homeowner, commercial trampoline park (“jump park”), or trampoline manufacturer may have to overcome the legal defense known as “assumption of the risk.” This defense essentially blames the victim for engaging in an activity that they knew or should have known was dangerous. The efficacy of this defense is close to nil, however, with younger children, due to another legal doctrine, known as the “tender years doctrine.” This doctrine holds that children under a certain age (probably 7) can not be charged with contributory negligence (fault) or assumption of the risk.
If your child has been hurt on a trampoline and you believe there was negligence, I would be happy to help you evaluate your claim.
Attorney Pete Pearson practices personal injury law in Atlanta, Georgia and has a special interest in helping families of injured children. He is a father to six and lives with his wife and children in Conyers, Georgia. He can be reached directly at Six-Seven-Eight 358-2564.