Although Harold Leon Bostick has been compensated millions of dollars for the injury that put him in a wheelchair, he says that money does little to make his situation easier.
Bostick, 39, became a quadriplegic nearly eight years ago after weightlifting equipment crashed onto him, breaking his neck, during a workout at Gold’s Gym in Venice. The Northridge resident says that having more money won’t change the fact that he can no longer walk or fully grip his hands.
There is no way to put a figure on the ability to do everyday activities again, such as walking, going to the bathroom without assistance, or using his hands properly, he says.
“To be able to walk again — how much is that worth?” Bostick asks when questioned if more money provides relief to his condition. “It’s hard to put a price tag on that.”
Currently unemployed, Bostick has been awarded a total of about $18.5 million in lawsuits stemming from his January 4th, 2001 accident at the Venice Gold’s Gym, which is considered the “Mecca of bodybuilding,” his attorney Bill Chapman said.
Most recently, a U.S. District Court jury in Los Angeles awarded Bostick $9.8 million November 19th in a bad faith case against Atlantic Mutual Insurance Company, the insurer of the weightlifting equipment manufacturer, Flex Equipment, Chapman said.
The attorney called the jury’s decision, which came after 45 minutes of deliberation, a “resounding victory for Mr. Bostick.”
“Justice finally prevailed,” Chapman said.
The federal jury found that Atlantic Mutual “acted despicably and with malice and oppression in wrongfully refusing to settle” a personal injury case involving Bostick in 2002.
Bostick, who served in the Marine Corps from 1991 to 1994, was an amateur weightlifter and bodybuilder prior to his accident. He had earned a master’s degree in business administration from Rice University in Texas and was attending law school at Pepperdine University at the time of the injury.
The accident occurred as Bostick was doing squat exercises for his leg muscles on a Flex Equipment “Smith” machine at Gold’s and he lost control of the weights, which fell on him and broke his neck.
Bostick said he suffered traumatic amnesia as a result of the injury and can only remember “bits and pieces” of the incident.
“I remember looking at the mirror, and that was it,” he said, noting that he was lifting approximately 200 to 300 pounds, which is not an extraordinary amount for a bodybuilder.
The specific machine he was using did not have adjustable safety devices, which cost approximately $75 and could have prevented the traumatic accident, Chapman said.
After becoming paralyzed, Bostick filed suit against Flex Equipment and Gold’s Gym, which later settled for $7.2 million. Bostick’s lawyers at the time learned that Flex had an insurance policy for only $1 million and offered to settle for that amount.
Atlantic Mutual attorneys determined that the accident occurred on a Flex machine, but after being advised that it might be dangerous to reject the settlement, Atlantic attorneys did not respond to the offer, Chapman said. In July 2003, a Los Angeles jury rendered a verdict for $16.2 million in favor of Bostick that was later reduced by ten percent, Chapman said.
Following the decision, Flex Equipment assigned Bostick the rights to sue Atlantic Mutual for bad faith in refusing to settle, a case which was concluded November 19th, seven years after the accident. Gary Selvin, an attorney for Atlantic Mutual, could not be reached for comment before Argonaut press time.
While the U.S. District jury decided in his favor, Bostick said the award has provided little relief, as the case has been litigated for several years and he believes there will be an appeal.
Bostick noted that it has not been a fast process to get to the jury’s verdict, but he said, “It’s nice to get reaffirmation for what has already been known.”
Bostick said he has only received a portion of the total award, which must also cover medical bills and attorney fees. As far as the money, Bostick says he doesn’t intend to use it for extravagant purchases, but rather to help himself live more comfortably and help others facing similar challenges.
“I’m not exactly rolling in the dough,” he said. “The idea is to help others and make life a little easier for myself.”
Confined to a wheelchair for more than seven years, Bostick said he has struggled to accept his condition and sometimes feels like an outsider, as though he is “on the outside looking in.” One of the most difficult aspects is having to depend on others for certain things, he says. But Bostick notes that he is able to overcome those challenges by having faith and believing that his life will get better.
“You’ve got to have faith that things will get better. As long as you have faith, some positive things can happen in the future,” he said. “You have to stay active — you can’t stay still.”
One way Bostick has remained active is by carrying on his passion for competition as a wheelchair athlete.
“He’s the type of guy that won’t give up,” Chapman said of his client. “He wants to make the most of his life and be as healthy as he possibly can.”
A one-time aspiring attorney, Bostick says he is no longer pursuing the career because he struggles with short-term memory loss. He said he has started a nonprofit organization, the Disabled Sports and Fitness Foundation, to help both veterans and non-veterans who are disabled remain active and re-integrate into society.
Bostick’s efforts now are all about changing his goals for the better and making the most of a condition that some believe has limits, he said.
“It’s about redirecting your goals,” he said. “You need to focus on what you can do now.”