St. Louis Record

Thursday, February 20, 2020

$1.5 million Spaceball injury verdict upheld by appeals court

By Sam Knef | Apr 5, 2018

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ST. LOUIS – An appeals court has upheld a $1.5 million jury verdict in favor of a man who fell from the Spaceball human gyroscope ride at a Hillsboro community event in 2012.

In a March 27 ruling, the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District found that Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Darrell E. Missey did not err on any points brought on appeal by Fiesta Corp., the defendant held liable for plaintiff Adam Payne's injuries.

According to background information in the ruling, Payne was injured at an event sponsored by the Hillsboro Youth Football and Cheer (HYFC), which had rented the Spaceball from Fiesta in 2012.

Fiesta claimed to have provided training on how to operate the Spaceball to HYFC staffers, but those persons failed to show up and operate the ride on the day of the event.

Payne agreed that Fiesta never provided training on the Spaceball - a ride which comes with a harness that is supposed to be locked in place with a cotter pin to secure a rider in a chair. The ride is controlled by an operator who manually spins a control wheel to cause the rider to invert and rotate.

The order indicates that Payne relied on bystanders to enter the ride and secure him with the harness - but he testified that he did not know they were bystanders and not properly trained staff. Consequently, he was given "a good spin" and fell out head first onto the steel flooring of the ride, the ruling states.

He was later diagnosed with an acute left C4 facet joint fracture, the ruling states. A physician found that he also suffered from pre-existing scoliosis and a curvature in his neck and spine that would continue to worsen.

On appeal, Fiesta argued that the trial court erred in the following ways: "(1) the admission of deposition testimony from respondent’s expert witness; (2) the exclusion of evidence concerning respondent’s past medical bills and past lost wages; (3) the court’s failure to declare a mistrial for an allegedly leading question by Payne's lawyer that unfairly prejudiced Fiesta; (4) the court’s denial of Fiesta’s motions for directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict; (5) the court’s denial of Fiesta’s motion for new trial based on an excessive verdict unsupported by the evidence; (6) and the court’s denial of Fiesta’s motion for remittitur," the opinion states.

Regarding the amount of damages awarded, the appeals court indicated it would not disturb the jury's assessment.

"The jury was able to observe the witnesses to assess their credibility, which is something this court cannot do," the ruling states. "Moreover, there was no evidence that respondent’s pain—which has persisted for years—would likely stop in the future, and respondent was only 32 years old at the time of his trial. It is incredibly difficult to assign a value to Respondent’s burden of enduring this pain and being prevented from living his life as he would absent the injury, such as his ability to play with his children and perform certain work."

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Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District