CHICAGO, Illinois -- Trampoline parks are a popular destination for kids, but there are serious risks. The ABC 7 I-Team and Consumer Investigator Jason Knowles found serious injuries occurring inside these jump arenas after collecting hundreds of 911 calls from trampoline parks across the Chicago area.
The results show hundreds of calls for help and, critics tell the I-Team, there's been a corresponding jump in injuries.
Working with the ABC station in Philadelphia, the I-Team found that injuries at trampoline parks can be potentially life-changing.
Injuries include a fractured ankle during trampoline dodgeball, a broken neck flipping into the foam pit, then there is one man who landed with such force on the perimeter of a trampoline severing his foot from his leg. One teen suffered a severe brain injury after falling through a hole in a trampoline.
Deslyn Audain remembers her son Jeremiah's screams when he broke his femur at a New Jersey trampoline park last May.
"I see him try and get up and he goes 'Daddy,'" she said. The cast went from his ankle to his pelvis. "As a parent you're just thinking, well, how dangerous can a trampoline park be?"
So the I-Team requested, through the Freedom of Information Act, the number of emergency-injury calls made to the 16 Chicago-area parks in the last three years. A total of 315 911 calls were made, and that number does not include injured children taken directly to the ER by their parents.
Naperville safety expert Don McPherson, a veteran gymnastics instructor, is an outspoken critic who has been an expert witness testifying against these parks on many occasions.
He told the I-Team he has seen "fractured skulls, traumatic brain injuries that come with brain bleeds, broken noses, broken cheekbones, broken jaws, broken necks that have led to quadriplegia and death. You have kids that are just bouncing across a trampoline, they get to the end of a trampoline, where it tightens up and their legs snap."
Advocate Children's Hospital Pediatric Emergency Physician Dr. Charles Nozicka said he's seen an increase in trampoline related ER visits.
"There's a trampoline fracture, they call it," Nozicka said. "Kids have open growth plates in their extremities so they get bigger. It's a softer area, you get more fractures and it can affect your growth later in life. Sixty to 70 percent of them are orthopedic injuries most in the lower extremities. The older kids tend to have more upper extremities injuries, head and neck injuries because they are trying to do flips. They are somewhat supervised, but not really."
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against recreational trampoline use and says pediatricians need to actively discourage it.
"You have all these jumpers on all the other trampolines who unknowingly are double jumping each other," said McPherson.
A 10-year-old girl broke her leg when she was "double-bounced" by an older child. Double bouncing is when one jumper affects the rebound of another. Parks warn guests not to do this, but McPherson said it is difficult to prevent.
The I-Team randomly chose Sky High Sports in Niles, open since 2011, to see a trampoline park first-hand. In the last three years, nine emergency calls for injuries were made from the business.
Like all patrons, we had to first sign a waiver and watch a safety video which states trampolines "can be dangerous, causing serious injuries, including broken bones and even death."
The I-Team saw multiple kids on the same trampoline double-bouncing, running across multiple trampolines, adults bouncing in the park's special zone for only 6- to 8 year-olds, and teenagers flipping onto their heads.
We sent our video to Sky High Sports, which responded saying safety is our top priority and that the company has mandatory policies and procedures to mitigate risk of injury, warning signs and guidelines are posted, and that trained monitors "are placed near all trampoline activities to" enforce rules. The park added, "We oversee court monitors performance and overall park safety daily and mentor our staff on a continuing basis."
But McPherson still said, "Just getting on is dangerous."
The International Association of Trampoline Parks told the I-Team they plan to implement more stringent self-regulatory standards in 2020, including third party inspections of parks.
They state: "Patron safety is a top priority for the International Association of Trampoline Parks (IATP). Available CPSC data indicates that trampoline park injury rates are lower or on par with common youth sports such as soccer, basketball and volleyball, and far lower than contact sports such as lacrosse and football."