Quadriplegic Is Awarded $14.7 Million
A former gymnastics instructor who suffered injuries that left him a quadriplegic while working out on athletic equipment in 1980 was awarded $14.7 million in damages Tuesday by a Los Angeles Superior Court jury.
The verdict, ending a six-month trial, was against AMF (American Machine and Foundry) Inc., maker of a mini-trampoline and gymnastics mat on which Randy Haims was warming up prior to teaching a class in Woodland Hills when the injury occurred.
According to his lawyers, Haims, now 27, was injured while performing what is known as a 1 1/2 rollout flip, or somersault, from the trampoline onto a 5-by-13-foot, 18-inch-thick mat.
Attorney Richard C. Voorhies said the mat was designed as padding for high jumpers and was converted for gymnastics use with a 6-inch layer of solid polyurethane foam on a 12-inch honeycomb base with pockets of air.
When Haims landed on the mat, Voorhies said, one hand plunged into an air pocket in the honeycomb, the other landed on 18 inches of solid foam and his head was “entrapped in the mat, with his body going forward dislocating his neck.”
The athlete’s neck was not broken, but his spinal cord was damaged, resulting in paralysis from the neck down, the lawyer said.
The wheelchair-bound Haims, who is dependent on a ventilator, lives in a specially equipped house in Chatsworth with round-the-clock aides. He was a frequent visitor at the trial proceedings. After the verdict was returned to Judge Robert L. Roberson, Haims thanked jurors for their “hard work.”
During the trial, Voorhies and attorneys Gregory James Owen and Stephen Heller alleged that the converted mat was never tested for gymnastics use and that AMF failed to give adequate warning for use of the equipment, knowing that it could cause serious injury in somersaulting.
Voorhies said the mini-trampoline is now banned in several states.
Haims, who was instructing at Le Club Gymnastics Academy in Woodland Hills when he was injured, now designs equipment for paraplegics, lectures and counsels other patients, and coaches wrestling from his wheelchair as a volunteer at El Camino High School, Voorhies said.
The lawyer said he thought the jury award was “conservative,” considering the “loss of his life potential.” Haims had asked for more than $20 million. No punitive damages were awarded.
John B. Loomis and Steven Freeburg, attorneys for AMF, argued during trial that the accident was Haims’ fault.
In performing the rollout, “he came in under-rotated,” Loomis said. “He had done the same trick 300 to 400 times on the same mini-tramp. He was an experienced gymnast.”