VALPARAISO -- The family of Joe White, the 28-year-old man paralyzed after being thrown from a mechanical bull at the Porter County Fair one week ago, is asking for $50 million in punitive damages from the owner/operator of the ride.
They also are seeking unspecified compensatory damages.
According to family members and their attorney, Kenneth Allen, they want more.
The ride is "deceptive, fraudulent and needs to be stopped. The risks have to eliminated," Allen said Thursday during a news conference announcing the filing of the lawsuit in Porter Superior Court.
"The risks are kept silent," Allen said. "The dangers are hidden. They don't say in a warning there is a steel frame beneath the pad."
It is the hidden steel frame they believe Joe White struck when the mechanical bull threw him off July 25. The fall resulted in White crushing two vertebrae. Doctors have given him a 4 percent chance of walking.
Doctors at Porter Memorial Hospital moved White back into the intensive care unit Thursday, said his father, Paul White.
"For the last two days he's been in a severe depression. The pain levels are excruciating," Paul White said. His son is suffering paralysis in his face and doctors are concerned he may have a blood clot in his lung, he said.
"Anger isn't the word. I'm devastated for him and his child," said Paul White. He said his son thought he would "have a little fun" when he took a ride on the mechanical bull, but the "fun ended up destroying the rest of his life."
"He told me if his injury can stop one other boy (from being injured), it is worth it," Paul White said.
Joe White has a 5-year-old daughter, Paige. Paul White said his son hasn't wanted his daughter to visit him in the hospital.
"She said 'Grandpa, I won't hurt him. I won't ride on his shoulders,' " Paul White said. Joe White's mother, Denise, sister, Jennifer, and brother, Matthew, who went to the fair with his brother, also attended the news conference.
The lawsuit was filed against Club Karaoke, doing business as Bullriders, and Cynthia Simmons of Seymour, Ind. An individual who answered the telephone for Club Karaoke on Thursday afternoon didn't comment, saying only "I don't understand" to questions about the business' possible connection to the mechanical bull ride. The telephone directory information system has no listing for Simmons. An Internet search found a telephone number for a Cindy Simmons in Seymour but resulted in an out-of-service recording.
The lawsuit does not name the Porter County Fair as a defendant, Allen said, because it had not been made aware of the injuries associated with the ride.
White is not the only person injured on the ride during fair week. Dustin Hrivrak, 19, of Kouts, while not named as a plaintiff at this time, also attended the news conference. He broke his wrist July 19 after riding the mechanical bull. Allen said no one made fair officials aware of Hrivrak's injuries.
Hrivrak said he didn't know until the next day his wrist was broken. At first, because of the "adrenaline rush" associated with the ride, there was no pain, but then he felt the injury and thought his wrist was sprained. An X-ray the next day proved otherwise.
He said the $8 ride, which included a videotape, happened so fast, he was unsure if the break came from a fall from the ride or from trying to hang on.
Allen said Hrivrak may be added to the lawsuit in the future, and the lawsuit could develop into a class action lawsuit if other injured parties step forward.
Allen said the movie "Urban Cowboy" popularized mechanical bull rides several decades ago. They fell from grace because of similar accidents and only recently have resurfaced at carnivals and fairs. The rides are unregulated by the state.
Allen said the ride operator should have posted signs of the inherent dangers, warned of the steel support system laying underneath the protective pads and warned potential riders of how many people had been injured on the ride. He also criticized the operator for not inspecting the equipment after the accident or stop it to see how seriously the ride injured White.
"Accidents can happen, but it is no accident when you know people can be injured," Paul White said. "We as the general public feel that these rides are safe when we go to a fair."
Joyce Russell can be reached at email@example.com or (219) 762-4334.
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