Woman crippled by Cybex exercise machine wins $66M

Woman crippled by Cybex exercise machine wins $66M
By Donna Goodison

A New York woman rendered a quadriplegic after a Cybex weight machine crushed her vertebra won a $66 million jury verdict that threatens to bankrupt the Medway company.

Cybex International Inc. said it’s responsible for $49.5 million of the judgment in favor of Natalie Barnhard, 30, of Buffalo. The verdict in New York state Supreme Court was one of the largest personal injury awards ever in Erie County.

The company, which has less than $4 million in insurance to cover the claim, said it will “vigorously pursue” an appeal.

“This piece of equipment has been in continuous operation for over 25 years in the same facility as Ms. Barnhard was injured, to the current date, with no incidents reported other than this one event,” Cybex CEO John Aglialoro said in a statement. “We strongly believe that Cybex was not negligent and is in no way responsible for this tragic accident.”

Cybex’s statement said Barnhard “pulled a Cybex weight machine over on herself” in 2004. Barnhard, then 24, was at work as a physical therapist assistant at Amherst Orthopedic Physical Therapy in Buffalo when the accident occurred.

Her attorney, Kevin English, said while doing a shoulder stretch, Barnhard had her hand on top of the leg extension machine, and it fell onto her when she stretched back with her shoulder and arm.

On her Web site, www.nataliebarnhard.com, Barnhard said it took four people to lift the 500-pound machine off her.

“I remember not being able to feel my body on the ground,” she wrote. “I have never been so scared in my whole life because . . . I knew I had suffered an extremely severe life-changing injury.”

If the verdict stands, it “would likely bankrupt” Cybex, analyst Reed Anderson of D.A. Davidson & Co. said in a report. Cybex’s earnings wouldn’t cover its operating expenses and the estimated $45 million it would need to borrow for the judgment, he said.

Shares of Cybex plunged 37 percent in trading yesterday after the company announced the verdict.

Barnhard was unavailable for comment, but English said the verdict was “warranted, given the injuries to Natalie and what’s she got to deal with the rest of her life.”

“She’s an extraordinary young lady, and I think she’s relieved and sees this as hope for her to be able to make some of her own decisions,” English said.

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