It’s a Small, Litigious World After All!
It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears; Its a world of hopes, its a world of fear; There’s so much that we share, that its time we’re aware…
“…its a small world after all!”
You might want to add, “It’s a world of lawsuits” to that refrain as well.
Late last week, Disney got an early Easter present, in the form of an $8,000 judgement against them for not being able to evacuate a man off the ride for over 30 minutes. (The ride itself is anywhere from 12-15 minutes long normally).
Considering how much other Disney lawsuits have been settled for, this one just might feel like a present to settle so low.
So, how did we get here? Well, back in 2009, Jose Martinez, found himself stuck in the final “room” of the attraction the day after Thanksgiving. As per standard operating procedure, Disneyland employees were able to evacuate all the passengers from the ride…except Martinez – who is confined to a wheelchair due to paralysis.
According to Martinez’s attorney, he suffers from panic attacks and high blood pressure, “…both of which became issues as he sat in the boat (with the song) playing over and over and over.” He added, “(Martinez) He was half in the cave of the ride and half out,” Geffen said. “The music was blaring. They couldn’t get it to go off.”
Apparently, Disneyland employes were unable to evacuate the wheelchair-bound Martinez and opted to try and fix the ride to get him back to the ride platform.
Now this is where I get to the litigious point of my article…
Martinez’s attorney continued, “This is a really important ruling not just for (Martinez), but for anyone that rides the rides at Disneyland — because they do break down often and they do not tell people.” Anyone who’s ever visited Disney Parks know that the ride operators are some of the best in the business. As SOON as a ride breaks down, announcements are made and cast members generally walk out to the attraction (when they can) to speak with guests and re-assure them that everything is okay.
The next quote finally broke me: “The court’s saying that this kind of injury is foreseeable and that (Disneyland) has a duty to warn people,” Geffen said.
Now, this ruling is significant – as you’ll remember previously that just a few weeks ago, I wrote about a similar lawsuit that was thrown out AND became part of case law. You can find that post here: “Ride at your own Risk!”
Ironically, the attraction – which was added in 1960, after the World’s Fair – was created in the hopes of spreading world peace via the youth of the world.
Apparently, it now should incite fear.
And really, Disney itself has played on this fear, which has made it more of a cult attraction that ever before. Remember these scenes from “The Lion King” trilogy? (Yes, they made three of them under Eisner’s rule)
And legally, we have to state that these clips of copyrighted material are being used under the “Fair use Doctrine” of copyright law, for discussion, criticism, education or parody. In this case, we’re using them as examples of Disney making fun of itself to educate the readers of this blog. We’ve even shortened the clip playtime to the smallest possible to make our point.
So beware, small world riders – you could find yourself in court the next time a ride song traumatizes you!
“Ride at your own risk!”
Today was a victory for amusement parks and fans alike – the California Supreme Court has ruled in favor of amusement parks and ride operators, by throwing out a lawsuit against (then) Paramount’s Great America that involved their bumper cars.
At issue was the “assumption of risk” associated with going to an amusement park and whether or not one could sue a park if you were injured on a ride through no fault of the park. (I.E. the rides were maintained properly, but you still became injured.)
According to court documents, Smriti Nalwa, a local OB-GYN was on the “Rue le Dodge” bumper cars at Paramount’s Great America back in 2005, with her son, who was maneuvering the vehicle. To say you “drive” a bumper car is a bit of a misnomer…
Continuing through the court documents, near the end of the ride cycle, which generally lasts for about a minute, “(the) plaintiff’s bumper car was bumped from the front and then from behind. Feeling a need to brace herself, (the) plaintiff put her hand on the car’s “dashboard.” That’s when she realized her wrist was fractured.
The lawsuit originally claimed that the park was negligent in preventing injuries to riders and that the park knowingly operated a ride that caused injuries. A lower court found the park not liable, but upon appeal, the decision was reversed.
According to the dissenting judge in the original appeals case, “Low-speed collisions between the padded, independently operated cars are inherent in—are the whole point of—a bumper car ride.”
Even Nalwa agreed with industry experts and fans, when in her deposition said, “The point of the bumper car is to bump…you pretty much can’t have a bumper car unless you have bumps.”
The court found that while these impacts were not highly dangerous, but that sudden changes in speed and direction do carry an inherent risk of minor injuries. To change this portion of the ride would be eliminating the very character of the ride itself.
The dissenting judge continued, “Imposing liability would have the likely effect of the amusement park either eliminating the ride altogether or altering its character…the fun of bumping would be eliminated, thereby discouraging patrons from riding. Indeed, who would want to ride a tapper car at an amusement park?”
In a small portion of cases such as these, our understanding of technology and safety is improved. For instance, after several situations where people were falling or being pushed onto loading tracks in stations, parks installed the ubiquitous “air gate” preventing soon-to-be riders from falling or getting shoved into the path of an oncoming train.
But because the industry is self-policed (I.E. a “killer” ride no longer has the appeal of the 1920’s), most of these lawsuits have done nothing but drive up the cost of business and removed (or renovated for the worse) attractions.
People DO get injured at parks, yes. But they also get injured at home, in their beds and in the shower, too. Yet, you don’t see lawsuits from those events. Why should a park be any different?
Even the court said, “Head-on bumping was prohibited on the Rue le Dodge ride, a safety rule the ride operators were to enforce by lecturing those they saw engaging in the practice and, if a guest persisted in head-on bumping, by stopping the ride and asking the person to leave.”
What was not discussed in the court papers was the possibility of a pre-existing condition. For all we know, Nalwa could have already had a hairline fracture that was aggravated by riding the bumper cars. This is not unheard of, as a child with a pre-existing heart condition died on Mission: Space at Epcot in Florida several years ago.
So clearly, someone broke the rules, they rammed a car head-on. So how, exactly is that the parks’ responsibility? If you or a member of your family was rear ended on the freeway, would you sue the state for providing the venue for the crash?
Let’s face it, more people are hurt or die DRIVING to amusement parks each year than inside them.
So, did someone get needlessly injured?
Do I feel bad that she was injured?
Should the park be responsible for other’s behavior in the park, or even a pre-existing condition that Nalwa may have not been unaware of?
I applaud the decision of the California Supreme Court, because by making this decision, they have re-affirmed our right to have traditional fun, without needless lawsuits ruining it for everyone else.