Metro

Injured acrobats hire law firm, speak out for first time

Ringling performers seek compensation after fall during stunt

Seven acrobats who were hurt last month in a horrifying accident during a circus performance in Providence will file a lawsuit seeking compensation for their injuries, their lawyers said Tuesday.

During an emotional press conference at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown, four of the injured performers from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus fought back tears as they recounted the daily struggles they have faced to regain mobility since the May 4 accident.

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“My dream was to be a star performer,” said one of the acrobats, Julissa Segrera, who, like her colleagues, spoke from a wheelchair. “Now my dream is to get up and walk.”

Lawyers for the women, Michael S. Krzak and Thomas K. Prindable of the Clifford Law Offices in Chicago, said they cannot determine who will be sued until they complete their investigation of the accident. However, Prindable said the performers cannot sue Ringling Bros. because of workers’ compensation laws.

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Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, parent company of Ringling Bros., declined to comment on the performers’ decision to retain counsel and eventually file a lawsuit.

“We and everyone at Ringling Bros. definitely as a whole, continue to wish them a speedy recovery,” he said. “And we would welcome them back to the Greatest Show on Earth with open arms” if they choose to return.

A spokeswoman for the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, the site of the accident in Providence, could not be reached for comment.

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During the press conference, lawyers for the acrobats said some of them may never be able to return to the circus, which they described as a dedicated, close-knit troupe that goes to great lengths to entertain audiences.

While the lawyers and acrobats declined to discuss specifics of the accident, Krzak said the performers want his firm to determine what happened, in order to prevent similar catastrophes from occurring.

“They want no stone unturned,” he said.

Eight performers, who had been hanging by their hair from umbrella-shaped rigging in a “human chandelier" act, were injured when a steel fastener gave way at the show at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, sending the performers plummeting from the ceiling to the floor below. A ninth performer standing below was also hurt.

The lawyers and performers said Tuesday that the injured have undergone dozens of surgeries and hours of physical therapy in an effort to regain their ability to walk.

Two patients suffered severe spinal cord injuries, five had open fractures, and one had a lacerated liver.

An investigation by Providence officials found that a steel carabiner clip used to support the apparatus had failed, a Fire Department investigator told the Globe last month. The investigator said possible reasons for the failure included improper rigging, an overloaded carabiner, or a manufacturing defect.

Prindable said that potential targets in the lawsuit could include the maker of the carabiner, which he did not name.

Payne, the Feld spokesman, said the human chandelier routine has not been performed since the accident. He said all carabiners used in the show were replaced as a precaution after the accident, and the company is conducting an internal review to determine the cause of the collapse. He said the company buys the carabiners from a vendor, but he did not have the name of that contractor Tuesday night.

The performers who attended the press briefing told harrowing stories of their recovery and the prospect that some may never again work as acrobats, which has been their lifelong passion.

“I will not be able to go back [to doing] what I love to do,” said Viktoriya Medeiros, 35. She wore a neck brace and a cast on her foot. “For me, my dream is just done.”

Another performer, Dayana Costa, 26, expressed hope for a full recovery, despite having to use a wheelchair at the press conference.

“It is a very, very hard and difficult and painful recovery,” Costa said. “I believe the same God that saved me [and] my friends’ lives is the same God that is going to give us our victory.”

Svitlana Balanicheva, 22, the fourth injured performer who attended the press conference, said she and her colleagues are part of “such a wonderful family” in the circus and that performers from around the globe have reached out to offer support.

“To go through what we did is something that we never dreamed of,” she said. “Now we have nightmares about this.”

Previous coverage:

Photos: Scenes from the circus accident

Two performers in circus accident suffered spinal injuries

Prognosis unclear for acrobats

Circus performers risk much to amaze us all

Father of injured performer says he doesn’t blame circus

Laura Crimaldi and Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
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