The mother of a 5-year-old boy who died after a fall from an inflatable ride is suing a Wichita inflatable-amusement company, saying the company operated equipment in a dangerous manner.
Sarah Ruggiero, the mother of Matthew Branham, filed a civil lawsuit Thursday in Sedgwick County District Court against Moonwalks For Fun Inc.
Matthew died March 22 after falling from an inflatable ride at Pure Entertainment, a facility near Kellogg and Tyler, and hitting his head on a concrete floor. Moonwalks for Fun owns equipment operated by Pure Entertainment.
Also named in the suit are Jesse Zogleman, manager of Pure Entertainment, and Tyler Tucker, a Pure Entertainment employee.
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Ruggiero is seeking "an amount in excess of $75,000" for personal injury and wrongful death. She also alleges that the company violated the Kansas Consumer Protection Act, and seeks $10,000 per violation.
"Our basis for this (lawsuit) is that the company take some responsibility or accountability for what they did," said Todd Shadid, an attorney representing Ruggiero. "So far they have refused to do so."
Zogleman, reached by e-mail Thursday, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, Ruggiero held her son's 5th birthday party at Pure Entertainment on March 18. One of the inflatable units set up for the party was called King of the Hill. The ride is designed like a large mattress — flat except for a bulge in the middle — and is surrounded by a 2-foot-high inflatable barrier.
During the party, Tucker, the employee, instructed guests to place a child in the center of the unit, which caused the center to sink, Shadid said. Then he jumped on one side of the ride and told adults to jump on the other, "which caused the child in the center to launch into the air," the lawsuit says.
Four days later, Matthew and his family visited Pure Entertainment again, using free passes they received at the birthday party. When family members performed the same maneuver on the King of the Hill inflatable that day, the lawsuit says, Matthew flew over the barrier and landed headfirst on the concrete floor.
The suit also alleges that the ride was underinflated and unsupervised, and that young children were allowed on the ride despite a manufacturer's guideline of "8 years old and up."
In May, city officials suspended the license of Moonwalks for Fun and Pure Entertainment for 90 days, saying owner Duane Zogleman did not have his rides properly inspected.
According to Pure Entertainment's website, the business is planning a "Grand Re-Opening Celebration" Sept. 1.
Wichita police investigated Matthew's death, but no criminal charges were filed. Detectives presented the case to the District Attorney's Office earlier this summer but "a decision was made ... not to pursue," said Tom Stolz, Wichita's deputy police chief.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission still is investigating circumstances surrounding Matthew's death, including safety concerns with the ride itself.
The lawsuit filed Thursday also alleges that Jesse Zogleman "committed deceptive and unconscionable acts" that violate the Kansas Consumer Protection Act.
Among them: "Publically blaming Plaintiff for the incident that caused Matthew Branham's fatal injuries when Defendants knew or should have known that their own actions or inactions were the cause."
A few days after Matthew's death, Duane Zogleman, owner of Moonwalks For Fun, said the child's fall was the result of customers misusing the equipment.
"The unit wasn't used in the manner it was intended," he told The Eagle in March. "We want people to be responsible and help monitor their own kids."
Shadid said the family "had no choice" but to file the civil suit.
"I think the public has the right to expect that a facility for kids is safe," he said. "The company had a duty to provide a safe environment for kids, that's a reasonable expectation for the public.
"Obviously the company didn't do that, and they should be held accountable."