VALPARAISO -- A Porter man who suffered serious spinal injuries after being thrown from a treadmill at The Fitness Barn in Portage Township eight years ago has been awarded $9 million by a Porter County jury.

The jury on Friday awarded the verdict, believed to be the highest personal injury verdict in Porter County, to Christopher Berrier, 29, of Porter.

"While Chris is grateful for the jury's hard work and relieved by their verdict, he would give it all back, and then some, if he could regain his physical and emotional health," said Kenneth J. Allen, the Northwest Indiana injury attorney who represented Berrier.

"Chris was a superb athlete before this injury," he said. "Now he faces a lifetime of medical bills, depression and disability, which could have been avoided entirely had this treadmill been taken out of service when it first began to malfunction several days before the accident."

The jury attributed 90 percent of the fault for the accident to the health club operator, Reliable Development Corp., and 10 percent to treadmill manufacturer, QIC Holding Corp. The health club declined to comment, and QIC's attorney did not return a call seeking comment.

Allen said he anticipates QIC paying its portion of the verdict, while he expects the health club to appeal the decision.

The accident occurred when the treadmill stopped while Berrier was running at speeds of 10 mph, Allen said.

"He went forward and hit his head on the display panel and twisted his back (falling down)," he said.

Berrier suffered permanent spinal injuries and has incurred more than $200,000 in medical bills, Allen said. He underwent multiple back surgeries and continues to have plates and screws in his back.

Berrier, an employee of U.S. Steel, continued working -- even though doctors said he isn't able to do such work -- because he needed to maintain his health insurance, Allen said. Under Indiana law, all bills paid by his insurance company will be repaid from the verdict.

In a statement released through his attorney, Berrier said he plans to return to school, retrain for another occupation and start a family with his wife.

The weeklong jury trial was tried before Porter Superior Judge Thomas Webber.

Ken Kosky can be reached at kkosky@nwitimes.com or (219) 462-5151, ext. 354.

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