Paralyzed gymnast seeks $1.8b in damages

08:44, May 03, 2011      

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Lawyers representing Chinese gymnast Sang Lan, who was paralyzed in an accident at the 1998 Goodwill Games in New York, have admitted their demand for $1.8 billion in compensation may not be paid in full.

In the lawsuit they filed on behalf of Sang on Thursday in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, Sang is suing three people and five institutions. They include media mogul Ted Turner who founded the Goodwill Games, AOL Time Warner Inc, the US Gymnastics Federation, TIG Insurance Co and two legal guardians appointed to look after her following the accident.

The compensation amounts to $100 million for each of the 18 claims, which include the alleged breach of an agreement, alleged violations of various federal, state and city laws, and claims of insurance violations as well as defamation and negligence.

Sang's lawyer, Hai Ming, told China Daily the legal team is aware that it may not secure the full $1.8 billion but wants to win a payout for Sang.

"It will be a victory for us to win on one or two counts," Hai said. "If we win half of the claims, it will be a great victory."

Hai admitted some of the claims were weaker because of the long delay in bringing legal action but argued that others were strong and said the best chance of success would come from claims against the insurance company and Ted Turner.

Hai expects the trial to start in June and said he will help arrange Sang's trip from Beijing to New York.

He said Sang should be compensated for the pain and suffering she has endured.

Huang Jian, Sang's agent and long-time friend, told China Daily at the weekend that compensation would assure she is cared for throughout her life.

He said Sang currently receives about 1,000 yuan ($154) a month from the sports authorities along with a 2,000-yuan monthly rehabilitation fee and 600 yuan in subsidies to help pay for personal care. The payments were set in 1998 and have not kept pace with rises in the cost of living, Huang said.

The Chinese medical system does not cover the cost of rehabilitation therapy, something that prompted Sang to write to Premier Wen Jiabao a few years ago to ask for its future inclusion.

Huang said Sang has shouldered a lot of the cost of her treatment by taking various jobs, including hosting a TV program.

Huang said Sang, who is now 29, did not talk to him about the accident until he asked her about it late last year.

"I feel the situation is very serious," Huang said. "So, we started to look for lawyers and we found Hai Ming."

In the lawsuit, Sang claims that, during a warm-up for the vault, someone tried to remove a mat from where she was about to land. Sang was distracted and fell and hit her head on the floor, paralyzing her from the chest down, including her arms and hands.

Her lawyer said many of those named in the suit failed to take care of Sang during the following years. Hai is also claiming that Sang's two guardians prevented her from filing a claim sooner.

Sang's injury received widespread attention in 1998 and celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio, Celine Dion, Christopher Reeve and then vice-president Al Gore and his family visited her in the hospital.

Sang has talked in the past about how she was deeply moved by the love and care she received in the United States and, in particular, about how she was inspired by Reeve, an actor known for his Superman roles.

Reeve, who was paralyzed in 1995 after a fall from a horse, set up a foundation dedicated to helping people with spinal cord injuries.

Sang took a similar step when she set up a fund on March 29 at a hospital in Jinan, Shandong province, that will be used to help people with bone diseases.

Leslie King, vice-president of communications with USA Gymnastics, which was formerly known as the US Gymnastics Federation, told China Daily she was not aware of the lawsuit but said it was not the policy of USA Gymnastics to comment on litigation.

Time Warner spokeswoman Mallory Zalkin also told reporters she had no comment on behalf of the company.


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