Disney Bus Crash Highlights Legal Double Standard
Ed NormandJuly 23, 2009 4:40 PM
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Of course we have all heard about the recent tragic death at Disney caused by two Walt Disney world monorail trains colliding. Recently, on July 16, there was a Disney bus crash where 12 people reported being injured when a Disney bus rear-ended another Disney bus in front of the Contemporary Resort. These crashes highlight another legal double standard that the theme parks have involving their transportation and ride systems in Florida.
The legal advantage relates to the liability of a common carrier. Traditionally the courts have held that common carriers involved in public transportation -buses, trains, airplanes etc...- are held to a higher standard of care than that required of personal use vehicles. Under traditional tort law the reasonable care required of a common carrier for the safety of a passenger is the highest degree of care consistent with the mode of transportation. Under this standard a common carrier must use the care that would be provided by very careful persons. Accordingly, a taxi, a city bus, or an airport transit must behave as a very careful person would do not just as a reasonable person would do. Of course, this higher standard makes sense because the common carrier is paid to look out for the safety of its passengers in the often dangerous business of transportation. Guests rely on these carriers to take extra precautions to look out for the safety of passengers and others in the zone of danger that the transportation creates.
In Florida, however, because the theme parks operate their buses, rides and trains in a closed system they claim that they are not held to the legal standard of a very careful person but claim a much lower standard of care applies to their activities. One way to look at it is like a grading system. A Greyhound bus, for instance, is held to an "A" standard in their operation. If they do not perform up to the A standard, then they are liable for any injuries resulting from their operations. Theme parks and others operating under a closed transportation system, however, can claim they can get by with a "C". That is if they operate only as an average driver (non-professional) driver/operator and someone is hurt they are not liable for any injuries they cause. This is true even if, had they been operating as very careful person, there would have been no injuries.
Other states do not have this double standard. In California, for instance, theme parks are held to the A standard and must operate their transport systems and rides in accordance with that of a very careful person. It seems reasonable to ask why a theme park in Florida can operate a bus or train or a ride under a standard of care less than that of a taxi driver. They certainly market their transport systems and rides to the public as top of the line safe. Why then should they get away with a much lower legal standard in court when it comes time to answer for injuries they cause? Maybe that is fair, maybe it is not, but in the interest of full disclosure perhaps all theme park boats, trains, rides and buses should come with a warning: "Caution: we get by with a "C" for safety, if you want an "A" take a taxi."