At first, Sylvie Gilbert says she felt intense fear. Sadness. Devastation.
The Victoria woman’s eight-year-old daughter Chelsea was injured in a foam pit at a B.C. trampoline park last April. She had a broken back. As time passed, and Gilbert learned more about the industry’s lack of regulation, her emotions turned into anger.
All of those feelings came back this week when she saw headlines about another Victoria resident — a 46-year-old father of two — dying in very similar circumstances at Richmond’s Extreme Air Park.
“You don’t need to have professional experience working at these places. Or even to own a place like this,” she said.
“I just hope that this is going to push the municipal and the federal bodies to start to regulate these places, because they are very dangerous.”
Spike in injuries
Jay Greenwood’s death on Wednesday has shone a spotlight on a fast-growing industry.
According to the International Association of Trampoline Parks (IATP), the number of parks has swollen worldwide from three in 2009 to more than 1,000 by the end of last year. The explosion has seen a corresponding spike in injuries.
And when victims look for someone to blame, they often come away with little more than the waiver of liability they signed before entering the facility.
Trampoline parks aren’t regulated in Canada, so they tend to follow established U.S. standards.
The IATP was established in 2012 to protect and promote the interests of the industry, but the Richmond Extreme Air Park is not a member of the IATP.
‘The trend … is alarming’
Darren Williams, a lawyer representing Gilbert in a civil suit against the operator of the park where her daughter was injured, agrees there’s “very little regulation [and] no formal government regulation.”
“If anything, it comes from the adoption, loosely, by the industry, of an international standard that is not, frankly, universally adopted,” he says.
“So it’s difficult to say that there’s any particular standard right now.”
Health Canada has a page devoted to the dangers of trampolines, but it hasn’t been updated since 2006 and makes no mention of trampoline parks.
A similar dearth of data led Dr. Kathryn Kasmire, a researcher at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, Conn., to examine U.S. emergency room statistics relating to trampoline park injuries. She and two colleagues looked at figures from 2010 to 2014 and came to some shocking conclusions.
The numbers jumped from 581 injuries in 2010 to 6,932 in 2014. The patients were predominantly male and their complaints included open fractures and spinal cord injuries.
“The trend … is alarming,” the paper concluded. “Particularly concerning was the occurrence of severe and debilitating injuries such as spinal cord injuries.”
The 2016 study also noted the liability challenges facing the industry, including an $11.5 million payout for a teen in Texas and multiple lawsuits, some of which led to the closure of a Washington State park.
Williams describes B.C. as “one of the best places in the world for a business looking to use a waiver to protect itself.”
That’s in part because of a wealth of legal precedent that has established if a waiver is clear, written properly and brought to the attention of a person “that it can bind the person and prevent them from suing.”
But Williams says minors can’t be bound by waivers and moms and dads can’t sign away their rights — crucial knowledge for parents dealing with an injured child.
In a written statement, a spokesperson for the IATP expressed sympathy for Greenwood’s family and said the organization would welcome the opportunity to work with Canadian safety authorities. To that end, the group recently worked with the Britain’s national standards body to develop new requirements for trampoline parks in the U.K.
That’s a move safety advocates say they would welcome. Sadly, as one safety advocate noted, regulation tends to emerge from tragedy, as opposed to an abundance of proactive caution.
Gilbert says her daughter is still recovering.
So is Jordan Smith’s brother. Landon Smith broke his neck in a foam pit at a trampoline park in Sherwood Park, Atla., almost a year ago. He was left a paraplegic.
From the window of his office, Jordan can see the facility where his brother’s life changed forever. And he hears the occasional ambulance.
“Something that’s fun and could be such a good time, there shouldn’t be so many ambulance trips involved,” he said.
“It’s not like I’m saying shut them all down… but for there not to be anything is kind of wild as well.”