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Mother fights for regulation of Arizona trampoline courts

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PHOENIX – At an indoor trampoline park in February 2012, 30-year-old Ty Thomasson back-flipped from a trampoline into a pit filled with foam blocks and broke his neck in three places.

Three days later, he was pronounced dead at Maricopa Medical Center.

On the two-year anniversary of her son’s death, Maureen Kerley, Thomasson’s mother, stood before state representatives and said Ty would still be alive if the trampoline park industry was regulated.

“Why isn’t there oversight? Why are we encouraging our children and why are they advertising to bring your children to their safe parks if they are not doing everything they can to ensure their safety?” Kerley said.

She was advocating for HB 2179, which would require park owners to have trampoline courts inspected at least once a year by insurers or by municipal or county inspectors. Park owners would also have to maintain records of serious injuries over the past two years.

Rep. Douglas Coleman, D-Apache Junction, sponsored the bill after Kerley hired an attorney to draft “Ty’s Law” and help it gain traction at the Capitol.

“The reason the bill should become law is for public safety. So when you go into a facility you know that they meet the minimum standards, that there is accountability, that they’re inspected,” Coleman said.

The House Government Committee heard testimony on the bill Feb. 4 but held it without a vote.

Amanda Stewart owns Airworx in Chandler and attended the hearing to support the legislation, saying that since Thomasson’s death most of those in the trampoline park industry already follow safety regulations required by insurance companies.

“Ty’s death was a tragedy. And I think it was also to a certain extent a wake-up call for our industry,” she said. “It provided us with an impetus to ask other trampoline park owners and new developers of trampoline parks to begin to discuss and enforce trampoline park standards.”

She said insured trampoline parks must meet standards designed by the American Society for Testing and Materials, an organization that regulates everything from lead in crayons to the smoothness of pavement at the airport.

Tom Paper, president and founder of Think Before You Bounce, a nonprofit based in California, said in a telephone interview that trampoline parks are dangerous and that parents shouldn’t take their children to them. One just has to look at waivers patrons must sign before bouncing to see the risk, he added.

“It boggles my mind that they can admit that it’s an extreme sport and then at the same time invite families to host their childrens’ birthday parties there,” Paper said.

In 2013, Think Before You Bounce pressed for legislation to regulate California’s trampoline parks. The bill passed in the California State Senate and awaits a committee hearing in the State Assembly.

Mike Williams, a government affairs consultant for the International Association of Trampoline Parks, said all trampoline parks registered with the association follow American Society for Testing and Materials standards.

He said the association supports the Arizona bill because it would level the playing field and regulate parks that make the entire industry look bad.

“You always have to legislate for the lowest common denominator. The guy that’s going to come in and throw a few trampolines in an old building and start charging people,” he said.

According to a policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the recreational use of trampolines in backyards or in indoor parks poses a serious risk that outweighs entertainment value.

Susannah Briskin, a pediatrician in Ohio who coauthored the statement, said trampoline parks encourage stunts like flips, which can cause cervical spine injuries and permanent neurologic damage.

“Trampolines were never designed to be a recreational device. They were specifically designed for training, for people who were doing acrobatics and gymnastics and even military aviator training,” she said.

Williams, with the International Association of Trampoline Parks, said the best way to prevent injuries is educating the public about the risks.

“Even though an accident is very tragic, you have to look at the percentage of people being injured now,” he said. “When you’re running and jumping and playing, whether it’s in your backyard or on a soccer field or on a trampoline or on a diving board, there’s a risk.”