Paralyzed ex-diver awarded $58.6 million
News Staff Reporter

Michael Murach, a professional diver left paralyzed from the neck down after an accident at Fantasy Island, was awarded $58.6 million Wednesday by a Buffalo jury. Court officials confirmed that it is the largest personal-injury verdict in Western New York court history.

Following a six-week trial before State Supreme Court Justice Joseph R. Glownia, a jury of three women and three men found the Grand Island amusement park's former corporate owners and operators, Island of Bob-Lo Co. and International Broadcasting Corp., both of Minneapolis, equally liable. Court sources said an appeal of such a massive award is almost automatic.

On its second day of deliberations, the jury found both corporations 100 percent liable for the June 23, 1990, accident and cleared both Murach, now 35, and his employer, Maxwell Associates of Miami, which books diving acts nationwide and in Europe.

Murach suffered massive spinal and other injuries when he lost his balance on a 3-meter diving board during a comedy routine. He fell 20 feet, striking his head on the pool's concrete edge, which his lawyers proved in court was too close for diving safety.

Murach, now living in Eau Claire, Wis., and receiving expensive, around-the-clock medical care, was not present for the jury verdict, but his parents, John and Margaret Murach of Austin, Minn., were in the courtroom and telephoned him moments later.

A tearful Mrs. Murach said her son has "waited 13 years and it's been a long time and now we have closure." She said all the money will be used for her son's lifelong medical needs. The Murachs hugged their son's two attorneys, Terrence M. Connors and Lawlor F. Quinlan III, and Daniel J. Hartman, the attorney who filed suit for their son 12 years ago using an untested state law historically intended to protect trapeze artists.

The victim's parents also thanked the Maxwell firm's attorneys, Anthony J. Colucci III and Rachel E. Jackson.

Attorneys Richard T. Saraf and Albert D'Aquino, who represented the two Minneapolis corporations, said they will discuss a possible appeal of the verdict with their clients.

In closing arguments Tuesday, Connors and Quinlan accused the corporate defendants of breaking nationally recognized standards for water venue safety.

They presented evidence at trial that pool safety experts recommend a minimum distance of six feet between the end of the diving board and the pool edge for pools like the one at Fantasy Island. At the time of the accident, the board was only 38 inches from the pool edge, according to testimony.

On Nov. 10, Murach was brought to Buffalo for daylong testimony so the jury could see him.

The jury began deliberations about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. The panel was sent home an hour later and resumed deliberations about 9 a.m. Wednesday, delivering its verdict at about 3 p.m.