Too often, safety violations at amusement parks are never discovered, never reported and, as a consequence, never corrected. Even if someone brings a lawsuit against the company that harmed him or her, these matters are often kept confidential in exchange for a compromise of the amount of money it will take to help that person. As a result, the public never learns about many of the dangers and risks at the parks. Not this time.
Federal investigators from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration have cited Walt Disney World with four Safety Violations and propose $69,000 in fines. This follows a federal investigation into the death of a mechanic killed while working on a roller coaster at the Animal Kingdom. The mechanic died the day after he was struck by a ride vehicle while performing maintenance on Primeval Whirl – a “wild mouse” roller coaster that spins, and descends tight turns. The Disney workers were performing “wet testing” which is where water is dropped from the top of the ride while the vehicle brakes are tested.
According to OSHA investigators:
- Disney failed to maintain key gate sensors designed to alert workers to press an emergency stop switch whenever a gate is open to an area in which an employee could be struck by the coaster;
- Disney failed to use fall protection when employees were kneeling on the coaster tracks while conducting tests exposing them to falls from as high as 19 feet;
- Disney chose to have stairway handrails that projected too far and created projection hazards; and
- Disney failed to install guardrails at the top of the lift platform – nearly 40 feet above the ground and exactly where employees perform the wet testing by spraying water on the ride.
Disney has twice before been cited by OSHA for such guardrail violations including following the investigation of the 2009 death of a monorail driver. In that investigation, it was discovered that workers performing monorail maintenance were put at risk of 8-foot falls without protection.
The death of the worker mentioned above is not the first incident of death involving the Primeval Whirl. In November of 2007, a 63-year-old ride operator was loading guests into the ride when she was struck by one of the vehicles, pushed 10 feet forward and off the ride platform where she fell 3 feet to the ground and struck her head. She died five days later. Earlier that same year, in April of 2007, a worker bent over to pick up trash and was pushed over the edge of the platform by the vehicle, suffering a head injury.
While the amount of the fine is a speck of dust to a company of Disney’s size, $69,000 is one of the more hefty fines imposed by the federal agency. Following the February 2010 death of whale trainer, Sea World was fined $75,000.00.
Disney says it has conducted its own internal investigation and has made several safety enhancements that address OSHA’s concerns.
Someone injured on the job should be covered by the worker’s compensation system of his or her employer or another employer for whom he or she is working. There are some limited exceptions where a worker can bring a liability case against an employer. There is also a potential to bring a case against the designer or manufacturer of the ride if a defect in the product contributed to the injury or death. Consultation with an attorney experienced in theme park injury cases is critical.
According to the article in the Orlando Sentinel, the Primeval Whirl was purchased by Disney from the French company Reverchon, though Disney designers made substantial modifications to the ride and now Disney claims to be the ride’s manufacturer. The ride is actually comprised of two coasters that operate side-by-side doubling the ride capacity and doubling the risk. Surely, Disney never intended for these people to get hurt, but is unfortunate that it takes sanctions by federal regulators because of someone being harmed to make big corporations correct risks.
If you have suffered a theme park injury, contact an Orlando injury attorney as soon as possible.
A civil trial attorney with the firm Wooten & Kimbrough, P.A., Mr. Damaso concentrates on cases involving personal injury and wrongful deaths and solely represents individual victims and consumers. He takes his clients' cases personally and is committed to their best possible outcome. His strong sense of community has led to his support of numerous charities in the Orlando area.