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Cybex Lawsuit Award Cut, Appeal Likely

An appeals court has cut back a woman’s multimillion-dollar award against one of the nation’s leading exercise-equipment companies. Still, the Cybex lawsuit award — now reduced to $44 million — could bankrupt the company.

The Cybex lawsuit began seven years ago, when a physical therapist’s legs were crushed in a workplace accident.

The therapist, Natalie Barnhard, had been using a Cybex leg-extension machine to perform arm and shoulder stretches when the 600-pound machine — which was not nailed down — fell on top of her, The Buffalo News reports.

Barnhard, 5-foot-1 and 110 pounds, was left a quadriplegic. She has kept a blog about her recovery, and posted a video in April showing her first attempt at standing without pelvic support.

A jury last year found Cybex 75% at fault, Barnhard's employer 20% liable, and Barnhard herself 5% liable in the Cybex lawsuit.

Appellate judges affirmed that breakdown last week, saying the Cybex leg machine was not designed to be used for stretching. But the judges also found that stretching was a common use for the leg machine that Cybex should have foreseen.

Under the legal theory of comparative negligence, that means Cybex will have to pay 75% of the judgment -- about $33 million -- while Barnhard's employer will pay 20%, or $8.8 million.

The payouts are far less than the $65 million that the jury originally awarded Barnhard, but they could still bankrupt Cybex, a company lawyer told The Buffalo News. That's because Cybex only has $4 million of insurance coverage that can go toward Barnhard's payout.

Cybex's CEO maintains Cybex is not at fault, and company lawyers plan to appeal the Cybex lawsuit's latest ruling. If their appeal is accepted, another court will likely hear the case sometime in 2012.

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