On Monday after a three week trial an Orange County Jury of 3 men and 3 woman deliberated for about 3 hours and Answered "NO" to the following question submitted to them: "Was there a dangerous condition on the tower ride called Tower of Terror on March 28, 1998, about which the Walt Disney World Co. either knew or should have known, by the use of reasonable care?."
The case related to a claim by an 80 year old man, that in 1998, as a result of riding the Tower of Terror ride he suffered a tear in a brain artery resulting in a debilitating stroke that manifested itself a few weeks later.
The Plaintiff’s attorney claims that the Trial Judge made rulings that prevented the jury from ruling on the adequacy of the warnings on the ride. It is notable that the Jury’s response to the question above never answered if the ride caused the stroke and if so, whether the warnings were adequate to inform customers using the ride that they may suffer a stroke from using the ride.
Florida law provides many protections to the theme parks in ride injury cases. For example, the Jury here could not evaluate the ride under a product liability standard of strict liability that would be applied to say a Toyota claim. Instead the theme park rides are not deemed products and so they are held to a much higher negligence standard. Further, unlike in California’s Disneyland, the rides here are not considered by Florida Courts to be instruments of common carriers and so a lower negligence standard is used to evaluate the ride than would be used to evaluate the operation of a train, plane or even a passenger bus.
The jury may have felt that the ride did not cause the injury or that the ride was safe. They may have felt that ride had acceptable levels of danger, or that everyone has personal responsibility for the risk of injury when they get on a theme park ride. On the other hand, if the jury was properly instructed and heard evidence about the strict liability standard held to products or the extremely careful person standard held to common carriers then perhaps the result would have been different. We also know from previous posts here that the theme parks are not subject to State or Federal inspections and have minimal to no reporting requirements for injuries to customers. An Orlando Sentinel study evaluated 101 ride- or attraction-related lawsuits filed against the major theme parks and only a very small fraction of the injuries or deaths were ever reported to the State. So if prior claims of injury on the rides were made known to juries would the rulings be different?
If the rides are truly safe, if they are not causing strokes or other severe injury and death then why hide behind legal defenses. Why hide the facts of other injuries from the jury? Why don’t the theme parks come clean and publicly report every injury or death to a customer allegedly related to a ride. If the rides are safe then why hide behind legal loopholes and not hold the ride to the same standard of conduct as a car or bus? Until this happens we can’t be sure the rides are safe, we can just be sure that the parks have better lobbyists than consumers.