Maine mom targets trampoline park after son’s broken leg, finds lack of oversight

Sarah Leavitt's son Justin, 3, broke his leg at Get Air Portland, an indoor trampoline park

Sarah Leavitt’s son Justin, 3, broke his leg at Get Air Portland, an indoor trampoline park

When Sarah Leavitt of Ellsworth took her family to an indoor trampoline park in Portland on Saturday, she never expected the trip would end five minutes later with a broken bone.

In a Facebook post that has since garnered nearly 800 shares, Leavitt described how her 3-year-old son, Justin, broke his leg at Get Air, a Portland entertainment park.

“It is pure chaos and one bounce away from putting a child in a wheelchair….my intentions were good. ….I wanted to bring the kids to do something fun and my son is now in pain,” she wrote.

Sarah Leavitt posted this image of her son's broken leg to her Facebook post about Get Air

Sarah Leavitt included this image of her son’s broken leg in her Facebook post about Get Air

These trampoline parks are popping up all over the country; Get Air has more than 40 locations in various states. But in Maine, they’ve bounced their way into a regulatory no man’s land. No government agency is tasked with overseeing them, making injuries or other problems impossible to track.

Justin was hurt because an adult was jumping alongside him, Leavitt said. She’s since learned that “double jumping” — when one person lands while the other tries to jump — has led to injuries at trampoline parks in other states. The force of landing can break bones, especially with jumpers of unequal size.

Leavitt signed a waiver at Get Air that spelled out the risks, including paralysis and death, she said. But the staff failed to warn her that double jumping was risky, she said. The park also doesn’t properly delineate the toddler area, she said.

“If that was written on the walls and people saw the picture of my kid with a broken leg, I tell you what, it’s brought up a lot more attention and made people think…twice about the risk,” Leavitt told me in an interview.

She’s faced backlash from her post, with some commenters calling her an “idiot mother” for bringing her children to Get Air, she said. But others have written to say their children were hurt at the park, too, Leavitt said. At the Maine Medical Center urgent care clinic that treated her son’s injury, the doctors exchanged knowing looks, saying they’d treated many other cases from the park, she said.

The hospital didn’t confirm that. Dr. Michael Baumann, chief of the Department of Emergency Medicine at MMC, said in a statement:

“We do not see trampoline injuries on a regular basis, yet they are quite dangerous in the backyard variety. The for-profit places usually have no way to fall off (wall to wall) and bumpers and netting that do not exist with home versions. These steps, along with the rules that these places put in place – (no alcohol, no popsicle sticks, no gum) usually mitigate a lot of the serious injury.”

Charlie Baker, general manager of Get Air Portland, said the physical activities at the center involve some risk, much like sports. He never likes to see kids get hurt, he said.

“It’s a fun place, that’s all I want it to be,” Baker said. “I want people to come here and have a good time. Unfortunately accidents happen, I just don’t think it’s reflective of this place as a whole.”

A child jumping at Get Air in Portland. FILE PHOTO COURTESY CHARLIE BAKER

A child jumping at Get Air in Portland. FILE PHOTO COURTESY CHARLIE BAKER

Get Air documents all injuries, though Baker couldn’t immediately say how many have occurred since the facility opened in October. But such incidents are “minimal” among the roughly 150,000 visitors who have come through Get Air’s doors, he said.

Portland ambulances have responded to 25 calls at Get Air since it opened, according to the city. That’s the most specific count I could find, but those calls could reflect anything from asthma attacks to injuries like Justin’s.

While the Maine fire marshal’s office regulates carnival rides, state statute doesn’t account for “non-mechanical” entertainment such as trampoline parks or jungle gyms, explained Assistant Fire Marshal Jim McCarthy. His office permitted Get Air’s building, but has no oversight of the activities inside, he said. No regulatory body does.

He likened the risks of trampoline parks to downhill skiing.

“When you buy a lift ticket, you sign off on that,” McCarthy said.

Get Air, based in Utah, has faced litigation in other states. A Pennsylvania woman sued a location there after a child’s alleged fall from a rock wall.

Another trampoline park operator, Sky High Sports, has faced multiple negligence claims in Washington state.

Baker wasn’t working when Justin was injured, but said after speaking with his staff and reviewing video footage, it appears the boy’s older cousin was jumping on the same trampoline, he said. The safety video that visitors agree to watch by signing the waiver warns against “double jumping” and kids of different sizes bouncing together, along with spelling out other risks, he said.

“We give the tools to people before they go out to know what to do and what not to do,” he said. “As long as those things are followed, it’s pretty tough to get hurt.”

Baker said he understands why Leavitt is upset, but disputed several assertions she made in her Facebook post about crowding and more serious injuries at Get Air. No one has ever broken their back or neck at the park, four staff members monitored the activity that evening, and the center was at less than half of its capacity, he said.

He planned to get in touch with Leavitt to discuss the incident.

Get Air refunded her admission fee, though she didn’t request that, Leavitt said. She said it’s not about money — she has health insurance and doesn’t plan to sue the center. She asked to view the video footage after her son was hurt, but was denied, she said.

Leavitt said she understands that kids sometimes get hurt. But she feels the risk at Get Air is higher than parents realize.

Tomorrow, doctors will tell her whether Justin needs surgery, she said.

“My mother got the kids a trampoline for Christmas, it’s still in the box out in the garage,” Leavitt said. “We won’t be setting that up anytime soon.”

Jackie Farwell

About Jackie Farwell

I'm the health editor for the Bangor Daily News, a Bangor native, a UMaine grad, and a weekend crossword warrior. I never get sick of writing about Maine people, geeking out over health care data, and finding new ways to help you stay well. I live in Gorham with my husband Nick and our hound dog Riley.