A 17-year-old born without hands is disappointed at being excluded from Sea World’s “Kraken,” but “Katie Champagne’s misery is the result of a litigious society, not heartless theme parks.” [Beth Kassab, Orlando Sentinel; error corrected on name of theme park operator, thanks commenter P. McC.]
You’ll need to sign a really strong liability release [St. Petersburg Times]
The best-known operator of British amusement parks has ordered its staff “to ban anyone found guilty of bumping into each other in the electric cars equipped with huge bumpers. Bemused customers who assume that the ‘no bumping sign’ is in jest are told to drive around slowly in circles rather than crash into anyone else for fear of an injury that could result in the resort being sued.” [Louise Gray, Telegraph via Free-Range Kids]
Also: California appellate court rejects assumption of risk defense and denies summary judgment to bumper car injury claim [Bill Childs, MassTort.org]
Pruett Nance was hurt riding an all-terrain vehicle on the grounds of a no-longer-operating theme park in Arkansas, Dogpatch USA. The owners having not paid a $650,000 judgment, a judge has awarded Nance ownership of the park. [Arkansas Online via Childs, TortsProf]
“A New Hampshire family who witnessed the Feb. 24 death of a killer-whale trainer at SeaWorld Orlando has sued the company in state court in Orlando, claiming their child was traumatized by the event.” [Orlando Sentinel]
William Saletan investigates a curious genre of harassment case [Slate; more at Atlantic Wire]
Cory Doctorow describes what sounds like a heavily lawyered-up recommendation process. [Flickr]
Reporting on possible legal angles arising from a veteran trainer’s death, the popular blog links to this post of ours from last year about how Florida amusement and theme parks appear to be aggressive and successful in defending against litigation.
Because having to wait in the regular line for a ride at the amusement park might be too stressful. A note from a doctor is needed. [Daily Mail]
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.
“A Florida woman who claims the G-forces from a theme park ride relieve her chronic pain has sued Walt Disney World for breaching its contract with visitors by limiting her to four rides per visit on its Tower of Terror. … In a complaint filed last month in Osceola County, Fla., Denise Mooty alleges she needs the Tower of Terror for therapy rather than thrills.” Disney denies the charges and says Mooty was made to leave the park “for causing a disturbance within the presence of other guests and using foul language toward a Cast Member.” [Heller, OnPoint News]
Inconceivably beyond my frame of reference as an American: self-operated rides in a Denmark amusement park (as part of a larger travelogue on a very strange park, Bon Bon Land). Instructions are provided on signs: customers seat themselves, and the next person on line is supposed to press the appropriate button at the appropriate time to send a customer hurtling down a zip line.
It fascinates me how other cultures tolerate risk and reject idiot-proofing so much differently than the US. I wonder which way the causal arrow goes with the general litigiousness of American culture: are we litigious because we’re risk-averse, or are we risk-averse because we’re litigious? If the former, perhaps the European example actually reflects the moral hazard of social insurance. (Of course, other photos on the travelogue pages demonstrate other important differences between Denmark and the US.)
Related: Subcontinental Drift on zoos in Southeast Asia.
Update: Amusement-park-loving torts prof Bill Childs comments, which is appropriate, because the post was originally just going to be an email to Childs and a handful of other people before I realized there was no reason not to just expand it into a post.
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Amusement park managements in California are unhappy about a new 4-3 decision by the state’s supreme court holding that operators of park rides constitute “common carriers” akin to bus and trolley lines for safety purposes, thus exposing them to a higher standard of care in injury lawsuits. Of particular concern: given that passengers on ordinary conveyances are supposed to be protected from dangers that would occasion acute personal fear and emotional distress, what are the implications for roller coasters and other thrill rides in which conveying sensations of that sort is the whole idea? Maybe the brass at Disney (which was the defendant in the suit at hand) weren’t being entirely overcautious when they slowed down the Mad Hatter’s spinning teacups (see Mar. 4 and Mar. 9, 2004). (Maura Dolan and Kimi Yoshino, “High Court Raises Bar for Safety of Thrill Rides”, Los Angeles Times, Jun. 17)(via Ken Masugi, Claremont).