By Shawn Schatzle, Esq. of Havkins, Rosenfeld, Ritzert & Varriale, LLP
On January 11, 2014, Seth Griffith went to an indoor trampoline park in Meridian, Idaho. He was seventeen years-old at the time and was accompanied by his girlfriend and her younger siblings. He had been performing various front flips, back flips and cartwheels for over an hour within the facility, which included two pits filled with foam blocks adjacent to trampolines. The facility was owned and operated by JumpTime Meridian, LLC (“JumpTime”).
A sign in the facility instructed patrons to land on their feet. Another sign specifically noted that patrons using the foam pit should not land on their head or neck and to instead land “feet first.” With regard to the foam pit, JumpTime’s internal policy manual instructed employees to “[f]ollow the rules outlined on the wall and continuously enforce [them].”
During his visit, Mr. Griffith successfully performed a double front flip from a trampoline into one of the foam pits, although he landed on his back, instead of following the directives of the signage. One of the facility’s attendants approached him after he performed the double front flip to ask if he had ever done one before. He told her that he had, and she commented that his flip “was pretty sweet.” Mr. Griffith continued performing double front flips while landing on his back. He then decided to try a triple front flip, a maneuver which required him to rotate forward three times in the air before landing.
Unfortunately for Mr. Griffith, he did not rotate far enough while performing the triple front flip and landed on his head and neck instead of his back, as he had intended. He suffered a cervical dislocation and fracture, requiring a fusion of his C6 and C7 vertebrae.
Mr. Griffith thereafter filed suit against JumpTime in the Supreme Court of the State of Idaho’s Fourth Judicial District. He alleged that JumpTime had negligently caused his injury. He asserted that JumpTime had a duty to supervise him due to the fact that he was under the age of eighteen at the time of the accident, and that his accident would not have occurred if JumpTime had properly supervised him. Mr. Griffith also contended that he would not have attempted the triple front flip if the attendant told him to land on his feet instead of his back, as he had been doing while performing the double front flips.
JumpTime ultimately moved for summary judgment, claiming that there was no evidence of negligence. It submitted the opinion of an expert that industry standards permitted trampoline patrons to complete a front flip into a foam pit by landing on their feet, buttocks or back. In opposition, Mr. Griffith contended that the signs on the wall established the standard of care (i.e. that it was not proper to land on one’s back) and the attendant’s failure to admonish him for landing incorrectly resulted in his accident, as he was not discouraged from attempted a more difficult maneuver like a triple front flip. The district court granted JumpTime’s motion, effectively holding that Mr. Griffith failed to produce evidence of negligence and causation. He then appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court.
In its decision upholding the dismissal of Mr. Griffith’s action, the Idaho Supreme Court focused on the issue of causation. Justice Daniel T. Eismann, who penned the decision for the court, noted that the issue of causation was essentially a question of “why [Mr. Griffith] attempted the triple front flip.” The judge highlighted the fact that he “did not tell anyone he was going to attempt it, nor is there any evidence indicating that the [attendant] knew or should have known that he would try a triple front flip.” Justice Eismann also noted that, regardless, there was no evidence in the record to indicate that it was even dangerous to land on one’s back. The judge reasoned that Mr. Griffith, by his own admission, had decided to perform a triple front flip because he liked performing new maneuvers and felt confident he could successfully perform it. He noted that Mr. Griffith’s testimony did “not support an inference that JumpTime was in any way responsible for his decision to try the triple front flip.” Therefore, Justice Eismann held that summary judgment had been properly granted to JumpTime based upon a lack of evidence as to causation.