Last week we addressed reports that 22 people had been stranded and then subsequently rescued from a disabled Six Flags Magic Mountain roller coaster, The Ninja. At the time of writing, details were still somewhat sparse, but over the course of the past week additional details have been revealed to the public.
What Occurred at Six Flags to Cause the Injury?
As previously reported, the accident on the Magic Mountain roller coaster occurred at about 5:30 p.m. on July 7th, 2014. A tree branch fell onto the Ninja’s track. The branch became lodged in the track and did not fall to the ground. The ride operator apparently did not notice the branch. When the coaster was launched, it traveled as expected until it hit the debris on the track and became derailed. The derailment of the roller coaster train left 22 people stranded precariously in the air. While initial reports pegged the Ninja-riders as being stranded at 20 feet, new reports have concluded that the riders were actually suspended nearly 40 feet in the air. As of July 15th, 2014, the roller coaster was still closed to guests. Meanwhile, the California division of OSHA has opened an investigation into the incident.
While firefighters and other rescue workers worked bravely, it appears that some serious injuries could not be avoided. Initial reports identified four minor injuries, but it appears that after having the opportunity to undergo medical evaluation additional injuries were identified. Two riders, Jeremy Ead and Olivia Feldman, alleged that they suffered a serious injury as a result of the Ninja accident. Ead claims that the tree branch on the tracks struck him in the head and caused serious injury — a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Both Ead and Feldman have filed lawsuits in federal court alleging that Six Flags Magic Mountain failed “to provide a safe and fit vehicle, so as to cause plaintiff to suffer injuries and damages.” They are seeking seeking compensation for medical bills, lost wages and attorneys fees.One can only speculate as to the fear and anxiety each rider experienced as they wondered if they would step safely onto solid ground again.
Will the Nalwa Decision Impact the Injured Individuals’ Recovery?
In 2005, Dr. Smriti Nalwa, with her son and daughter, attended the Great America Amusement Park in California. Dr. Nalwa and her son wanted to ride the Rue le Dodge, also known as the bumper car ride. Dr. Nalwa, as permitted by the park, allowed her son to drive the vehicle. Then, in rapid succession, their car was struck in the rear and then in the front. Dr. Nalwa cired out and her son exclaimed that he had heard a cracking noise. The forces in the bumper car accident had broken Dr. Nalwa’s wrist.
California’s Appeals Court has deferred to the traditional distinction in California regarding the application of “assumption of risk” to traditional sports and amusement park attractions. that is, the doctrine would limit liability of a group that organized a soccer or football match, but would not limit liability for an amusement park operator. The California Supreme Court reversed applying the doctrine to both traditional sports and amusement park rides, alike. The Court reasoned, “[t]he policy behind primary assumption of risk applies squarely to injuries from physical recreation, whether in sports or non-sport activities. Allowing voluntary participants in an active recreational pursuit to sue other participants or sponsors for failing to eliminate or mitigate the activity’s inherent risks would threaten the activity’s very existence and nature…The doctrine thus applies to bumper car collisions, regardless of whether or not one deems bumper cars a ‘sport.” Therefore in California it appears that the question of assumption of risk now turns on two factors: voluntary participation and that the activity is physical recreation. This is an expansive and sweeping decision that has the potential to foreclose many people’s right to recover compensation for their injuries. It will be interesting to see whether the court considers a falling branch to be an inherent risk of roller coaster in a wooded area. Will amusement park operators in California be able to dodge simple common-sense maintenance, such as trimming trees, based on the Nawla decision? It simply depends on how broadly the court decides to define these terms. If the legal trend expressed in Nalwa continues however, it is unlikely to be good news for those injured in California.
For more than 34 years the experienced amusement park, theme park and carnival injury attorneys of The Reiff Law Firm have protected New Jerseyans and Pennsylvanians injured due to negligence or intentional wrong-doing. For your free and confidential legal consultation call (215) 246-9000 or contact us online.