LAKELAND — Kimberly Barnes let her 10-year-old son go to Urban Air Adventure Park on Sept. 1 to celebrate his best friend’s birthday for what she thought would be a fun day of ziplining and jumping on trampolines.
Her son had played there multiple times before, and she thought this time would be no different.
But this visit quickly turned into her worst nightmare.
Barnes received a phone call that her son had fallen off a zipline and was severely injured.
And then came the video from the mother of her son’s best friend.
“It was almost like everything in my world just stopped when I found out that he was hurt,” she said.
“It was the start of a nightmare. No parent wants to ever hear that their child has been injured or fallen from a ride.”
Barnes filed a lawsuit Monday against the company that owns the Lakeland facility, UATP Management, alleging that Urban Air employees failed to check or secure the boy’s harness properly before the start of the ride.
According to the lawsuit, the boy lost his grip on the front ropes and fell approximately 20 to 25 feet onto the concrete surface while riding the “Sky Rider” zip line.
He was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital where he spent five days undergoing multiple surgeries after suffering a brain injury, several broken ribs, and a punctured lung, according to Steven Capriati, the family’s attorney with Morgan & Morgan.
Surveillance video from the Florida Department of Agriculture shows the boy falling onto the concrete floor shortly after getting on the zip line.
Capriati said he believes there were three employees manning the ride. None of them, he said, secured any of the boy’s straps.
“They put his harness on like a jacket, and that was the end of it,” he said.
“No one else checked to see if anything had been buckled. A failure like this is something that is almost unexplainable. It’s supposed to be a family-friendly environment and you send your kids there expecting it to be safe, which is what our client did. But that didn’t happen, so somebody did not do their job.”
Barnes is suing Urban Air for more than $15,000 in damages, not including interest, fees and costs.
The “Sky Ride” is described in the lawsuit as a “gravity ride” that catches speed as the ride progresses and operates similar to a zip line that is connected to a trolley and holds one rider in a harness with shoulder straps, waist straps, leg straps, buckles, and loops.
The lawsuit claims that the “Sky Ride” has three stations: the harness area, where an employee first puts on the harness and attaches everything; the adjustment pit, where another employee conducts a “safety harness check; and the start platform, where another employee does a final check to ensure the harness and straps are secure before the rider is released holding a front rope.
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But Capriati believes the front rope is only to keep the ride facing forward and prevent them from spinning—not to secure their safety or prevent them from falling.
Urban Air Adventure Park requires parents and guardians to sign a waiver agreeing to let their child participate in a “potentially dangerous activity” and warning that even if the company ensures reasonable care there is a chance their child may be seriously injured or killed participating in this activity because there are certain dangers inherent in the activity which cannot be avoided or eliminated.
But in this situation, Capriati said Urban Air “breached its duty of care” and the agreement clearly does not apply. He also questioned why the facility lacks safety nets or rubber padding underneath such a dangerous ride.
When asked about its existing safety measures and training procedures, Urban Air did not comment.
The company did provide the following statement in an email to the Tampa Bay Times:
Urban Air is fully committed to the uncompromising safety and well-being of our guests and employees. As a family owned and operated company, safety is at the heart of everything we do. We take matters of this nature very seriously and can assure that appropriate measures have been taken. All staff members have been retrained on all attractions and the employees in question are no longer with us. We are thankful to hear that the child is back in school and we will continue to keep him and his family in our thoughts and prayers through his full recovery.Carolyn McLean, Vice President Public Relations
The boy has returned to school, but his mother said it has not been easy for either of them physically, emotionally , or mentally.
“He’s better than he was," she said, "but every day is a struggle.”
“He’s working on his life going back to normal and goes to school as much as he can tolerate going to school. I try to be there for him and try not to show how it affects me. I want him to know that everything will be okay."
Contact Monique Welch at firstname.lastname@example.org or Follow mo_unique_.