Lawsuits against theme parks, and fee-shifting

by Walter Olson on May 26, 2009

Disney, Universal and Busch Entertainment weren’t eager to discuss the details of their legal defense but that didn’t stop the Orlando Sentinel from developing a searchable database of 477 state and federal cases filed against the three companies over the years 2004-08. Most cases were slip-falls, very few went to trial as opposed to settling, and in general the companies seemed to enjoy a fair bit of success both at satisfying patrons before their discontents reached the stage of lawsuits and at defending against the suits if brought.

It seems the companies are also willing to utilize provisions of Florida law that go further in the direction of “loser-pays” than do the laws of many other states:

Plaintiffs who lose sometimes end up footing the theme parks’ legal bills. The theme-park companies can, and do, go after unsuccessful plaintiffs, seeking reimbursement for their legal expenses. Under Florida law, anyone who sues anyone else over a personal injury faces this possibility. If the defendant offers a settlement but the plaintiff rejects it and then loses the case (or, in some circumstances, even if the plaintiff wins the case), the defendant can demand the plaintiff pay the defendant’s legal bills.

Reports of other successful defendants pressing their rights under such provisions in Florida or elsewhere are not exactly common, leaving the question of whether 1) the theme parks are making more aggressive use of the Florida rules than other defendants, 2) plaintiffs who go to trial against theme parks are atypical in some way, or 3) other defendants use the fee-shift provisions too, but we just don’t hear about it much.

{ 4 comments }

1 John Hochfelder 05.26.09 at 5:20 am

As I mentioned in my May 16th post, the loser pays system may get a stronger backing as people become aware of lawsuits being dismissed that never should have been brought. In particular, it appears that too many lawsuits are started for kids who get hurt after either starting a fight at school or jumping into one that someone else started. Juries just don’t see how these acts make a school liable and the public may soon clamor for a loser pays system to right these wrongs.

2 Tom T. 05.26.09 at 9:58 am

How does a database of cases filed show incidents that were resolved without lawsuits?

3 Carter Wood 05.26.09 at 7:04 pm

Let’s put the CPSC in charge! They’ve got nothing else better to do.

17. H.R.2514 : To restore the jurisdiction of the Consumer Product Safety Commission over amusement park rides which are at a fixed site, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep Markey, Edward J. [MA-7] (introduced 5/20/2009) Cosponsors (None)
Committees: House Energy and Commerce
Latest Major Action: 5/20/2009 Referred to House committee. Status: Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

4 Tammy 05.28.09 at 10:29 pm

This is a great law, when one side loses a lawsuit they should be forced to pay the costs of the winning side.
But to make it better both sides should have to post a bond upfront to make sure they have the money to pay the cost if they do lose. This would stop ambulance chasing law firms from filing frivolous lawsuits!!

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