An Oregon youth pastor who doctor’s say miraculously survived after breaking his neck at a church camp during a game using a “Bubble Ball” he purchased from Walmart is now, along with his wife, suing the retail giant for more than $3 million.
In a federal lawsuit cited by The Oregonian, Joshua Ashley of Milton-Freewater and his wife allege that the harness that strapped him inside the large inflatable ball broke, catapulting him head-first into another player’s ball.
De Wilbourne, the children’s program director at Valley Christian Center in Milton Freewater, explained in a GoFundMe campaign — launched on behalf of the pastor shortly after the accident that took place in the summer of 2017 — that Josh, now 32, and his wife, Katie, were serving as youth pastors at his church.
“Josh broke his neck in a freak accident while serving as a counselor at church camp. The doctors told Josh's family when he was airlifted to Portland, it was a miracle that he didn't die on impact or paralyzed from the neck down,” Wilbourne said.
As a result of the accident, the pastor’s lawyer, Ron K.Cheng, said he was immobilized and bedridden for nearly a year but has since regained his movement. His neck fracture also didn’t sever his nerves. But he continues to suffer from memory loss.
The suit against Walmart argues that the Bubble Ball was in “an unreasonably dangerous and defective condition” and that the company failed to inspect it for any defects or warn users of potential dangers.
Included in the lawsuit is a photo of the box, which advertised it as the “MOST EXTREME CONTACT SPORT EVER!’’
Joshua Ashley is now seeking $2 million in noneconomic damages and $250,000 in economic damages for the June 27, 2017, injury The Oregonian said. Katie Ashley is seeking an additional $1 million in noneconomic damages for her distress and loss of care, comfort and companionship.
“If you’re going to sell products at a cheaper price, you have to make sure it’s safe,’’ Cheng added about the Chinese made ball that was purchased at Walmart for $60.
Randy Hargrove, a Walmart spokesman, told the publication that the company was just learning about the lawsuit but would review it.
“We expect our suppliers to provide products that meet all applicable laws,’’ he said. “We are reviewing the complaint and will respond as appropriate with the court.’’
While the Bubble Ball industry says it receives very few reports of injuries and calls Bubble Balls "extremely safe," Ohio high school senior Erin Horn, who suffered a traumatic brain injury due to using a Bubble Ball more than a year ago at another church-related event, told WKYC 3 that they are not as safe as people think.
"I don't even think they should exist. I think the risk is too high. I wouldn't want anyone to go through what I did,” said Horn, who crashed into a boy much bigger than her during an activity with the Bubble Ball.
"I couldn't see. I couldn't hear, but I couldn't like tell where people were. It was completely gray," she recalled.
She is now suing the organizers of the Bubble Ball event as well as the church.