July 27, 2013

California bill would regulate trampoline parks

When state Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, took his 7-year-old son to a friend's birthday party at a trampoline park in Gardena several months ago, he felt that something was not quite right.

When state Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, took his 7-year-old son to a friend's birthday party at a trampoline park in Gardena several months ago, he felt that something was not quite right.

"There was no training of any kind or anything about what might be dangerous and they proceeded to jump," Lieu said. "And it sort of occurred to me that I didn't know how safe this was."

Lieu hopes Senate Bill 256 will change that. If passed, his bill would regulate the construction, maintenance and operation of trampoline parks with the goal of increasing safety.

Parks like Sky High in Rancho Cordova and Sky Zone in Rocklin feature wall-to-wall trampolines, foam pits and activities like dodge ball and aerobics, and have become popular venues for children's birthday parties, corporate team-building exercises and other occasions.

Like backyard trampolines, these parks come with risks. Trampoline park visitors have sustained compound fractures and other injuries, resulting in paralysis and even death.

Relatively new to the amusement scene, trampoline parks are exempt from the industry standards that regulate amusement parks and ski lifts. Consumer advocates and supporters of Lieu's bill say applying the same regulations to trampoline parks would increase safety.

Lieu said fees on park owners would cover the $640,000 the Senate Appropriations Committee predicted the bill would cost the state to enforce regulations. Still, Gov. Jerry Brown's Department of Finance opposes the bill.

A consumer safety group, Think Before You Bounce, sponsored the bill as the next step in its campaign to make trampoline parks safer. The group's president, Tom Paper, said the oversight provisions in the bill would eliminate some risks, like the danger of jumping into foam pits built too shallow or "double jumping" on one trampoline.

"If two people come down and another person is not expecting it, you can break somebody's leg quite easily," Paper said. "We're convinced (the bill) will reduce injury."

Though Paper noted that some parks already have safety precautions in place, he said legally mandated procedures would ensure the safety of customers.

"The bill will weed out the bad actors, the people who are the outliers, and they exist," Paper said. "Depending on the park you go to, the oversight is not always good, and people who attend these parks have no idea."

Maureen Kerley said her 30-year-old son, Ty Thomasson, assumed he was safe when he did a flip into a foam pit at a trampoline park in Phoenix. Thomasson hit the bottom of the 3-foot-deep pit and broke his neck. He died a few days later.

Misha Nasledov, a 28-year old software engineer, shattered his tibia at a Bay Area trampoline park two years ago. He was playing dodge ball against some of his co-workers when he jumped from a floor trampoline to a sidewall trampoline and heard a loud crack.

"I saw that my tibia was sticking out of my skin and I saw all of the layers you would normally see in a textbook. The skin, the fatty layers, the muscle and the bone It's an image I can never forget," Nasledov said.

During his recovery, Nasledov learned from physicists that jumping from a floor trampoline to a side trampoline with a different tension caused his injury. He said no one informed him that this could be dangerous, and the staff was "clueless" about how to respond to an injury.

"There was no safe extraction procedure in case somebody experiences an injury on the court," he said. "When the paramedics arrived and got me onto a stretcher, they had to lift me off the trampoline court. Four or five guys had to carry me on a stretcher off the trampolines."

Trampoline park owners, however, say the differences between their businesses and amusement parks are too great for the same regulations to be appropriate. Jeff Platt, CEO of Sky Zone Sports and chairman of the International Association of Trampoline Parks, said shutting down a trampoline after an injury usually isn't necessary.

Unlike roller coaster or other amusement park ride accidents, Platt said most trampoline injuries are not the result of equipment failure and do not merit the same level of investigation.

"With a trampoline, it is a participatory activity where the person is in control of their actions," Platt said. "Injuries are usually from the risk of someone doing something outside their ability and not equipment malfunction."

Platt pointed out that trampoline park owners would support safety regulations, but believe those required in Lieu's bill are unworkable. Over the last year, Platt and other owners developed a set of industry guidelines and had them published by the American Society for Testing and Materials.

Platt said these industry guidelines go even further than Lieu's bill, detailing the construction and maintenance specifications for courts, foam pits and other features. He said legally requiring parks to follow these guidelines would impose significant costs on his business, but he would be willing to pay them.

"As business owners, we always look at how to mitigate those chances of injury as much as we possibly can," Platt said. "That's what we hope to do with the new standards."

Lieu hoped that park owners and safety advocates could find common ground for the good of the public.

"Even in the trampoline industry, the good actors appreciate the bill because they understand that the bad actors damage your business because if (customers) are scared of getting injured, that is going to hurt their business too," Lieu said. "They want reasonable regulations just as much as we do."

Call Annalise Mantz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5545.

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