Randall Duchesneau ’09 was 21 years old and a member of the Cornell Gymnastics Club on Oct. 12, 2006, when his botched attempt to perform a standing backflip in the Teagle Hall Gymnasium caused permanent spinal injuries that rendered him a quadriplegic, wheelchair-bound for life.
But after waging a four-year, multi-million dollar negligence suit against Cornell, Duchesneau was denied compensatory damages when a federal jury ruled Nov. 5 that the University was not legally responsible for the accident. Duchesneau will appeal the verdict.
Duchesneau, who was a senior at the time of the accident, sued Cornell University, the Cornell Gymnastics Club and TumblTrak — the company that manufactures the trampoline-like apparatus on which Duchesneau was injured — in October 2008 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, claiming that the University “should have provided supervision, screening and spotting in Teagle Hall Gymnasium during practices conducted by the Cornell Gymnastics Club, an independent student organization,” according to University counsel.
In his complaint, Duchesneau alleged that neither Cornell University, Cornell Gymnastics Club or TumblTrak ad provided warnings regarding the hidden dangers of using the TumblTrak, which, Duchesneau’s attorneys claimed, “deceptively lacks the cushioning effects of a trampoline or a crash mat,” according to court documents.
The University countered that Duchesneau had “assumed the risk of using the [TumblTrak] and Cornell had no duty to supervise the use of gymnastic equipment by novices, ” according to court documents. The University said in a statement this week that “while Mr. Duchesneau’s accident was tragic, Cornell did not cause it.”
Duchesneau disagreed, saying Cornell is responsible for the physical suffering, “emotional pain and suffering, disfigurement, depression, anxiety and mental anguish” that forced him and his family to “expend substantial sums of money for medical treatment and medications,” according to court documents.
In addition to the costs resulting from his injuries, Duchesneau also alleged that he has “suffered a severe loss of earnings and impairment of his earning power and capacity” because “his quadriplegia prevents him from performing all or substantially all of his usual and customary activities prior to the October 12, 2006, incident,” according to court documents.
Nonetheless, the jury found in favor of Cornell earlier this month.
Duchesneau returned to Cornell and graduated in 2009, three years later than his planned graduation date. He is currently attending graduate school at Yale University.
Although the November verdict favored Cornell, Duchesneau and is not giving up. His lawyers are currently waiting to hear the result of a motion to declare a mistrial, according to Daniel Jeck, one of Duchesneau’s trial attorneys. Oral arguments on the motion are set to begin Dec. 12.
If the judge denies the request for a mistrial, Duchesneau’s legal team intends to pursue “any and all appellate avenues that are available,” Jeck told The Sun Tuesday.
Rebecca Harris contributed reporting to this article.