Twist of fate - court awards former UNE student $4.6m after amusement park tragedy

A FORMER UNE student has won a $4.6 million payout after he was rendered quadriplegic while attempting a backwards somersault at a New England amusement park.
Benjamin Alan Ackland – who is now a national wheelchair rugby player – was a 21-year-old law student at the University of New England in Armidale in 2009. On October 10, Mr Ackland and a number of other Austin College residents went on a mystery bus tour to Green Valley Farm, near Tingha.
The farm ran an amusement park, with attractions including a device known as a “jumping pillow”, comprising a large inflatable pillow, about 20m in length and 10m wide, allow visitors to the park to jump up and down on it, like a trampoline.
Mr Ackland attempted a number of back somersaults on the pillow after seeing several visitors perform the feat.
He landed awkwardly on his side and belly on the first attempt.
Upon advice from others he attempted the manoeuvre a second time, landing on his head and causing a serious neck injury resulting in quadriplegia.
Mr Ackland launched civil action against the park, claiming it was negligent on eight grounds, including failing to provide proper instruction on the safe use of the jumping pillow, failing to provide proper supervision, and failing to prohibit backflips or other inverted manoeuvres on the jumping pillow.
But the defendants argued they discharged a duty of care by telling the group to stay off the equipment.
They also said Mr Ackland suffered the injury as a result of his participation in a dangerous recreational activity.
Justice John Burns, in a judgment handed down in the ACT Supreme Court yesterday, found in Mr Ackland’s favour and awarded him $4.626 million to cover the loss of future earnings, past and future medical expenses, housing and other care costs. The judge found the park had been negligent by failing to prohibit inverted manoeuvres on the jumping pillow and not providing signage advising of the ban, and should have told him to stop attempting the trick.
“I am satisfied that the defendants were negligent, and that this negligence caused the injury sustained by the plaintiff,” Justice Burns wrote.
“I am not satisfied that the defendants have established that the plaintiff was guilty of contributory negligence.
“On balance, I’m not persuaded that it would have been obvious to a reasonable person that there was a risk of serious injury in attempting to perform a back somersault on the jumping pillow.
“The perception of risk of minor harm is not the equivalent of the perception of risk of a serious neck injury.”
Outside court, Mr Ackland, now 26, who was represented by Maurice Blackburn, said the decision was an “enormous step” in supporting his independence now and in the future. 

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