Today Universal Studios Hollywood has now joined Universal Studios Orlando in closing down the Back to the Future ride at the theme park. The Orlando Universal Studios ride closed down on March 30, 2007. It is interesting to note that this ride is the subject of a recent law opinion related to allegations of injury on the ride. The case is called Universal City Development v. Williams and can be found on Westlaw at WL 2403212. The writer is dismayed by this opinion because I previously won 2 appeals against Universal on this exact same issue in cases involving injuries allegedly sustained on another theme park ride called the Dudley Do Right Rip Saw Falls Ride at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. If you look at the lawsuit filings in Orange Circuit Court in Orlando you will see a shocking number of lawsuits, including allegations of theme park rides causing injury to children, filed related to the various rides including the Dudley Do Right Rip Saw Falls Ride. Also other accident information has been ordered to be disclosed before by Courts but a check of the Court files will not reveal it. Defendants including theme parks do whatever it takes to ensure the information is hidden. Defendants often stick secrecy or gag orders as conditions of settlement of cases and so the government and the citizens do not have access to information about ride safety sufficient to allow them to make an informed decision about the safety of the ride before they allow their family to use the ride.
In the case Universal appealed an order from a Judge ordering that it tell the Plaintiff the names and addresses of others who have reported injuries on the ride before and after this particular incident. The appellate court severely limited the discovery. For instance, it said that incidents occurring after the subject accident were not discoverable. The court said that information about subsequent accidents is not relevant to show that Universal was on notice of a dangerous condition at the time of this incident. That may be true but there are lots of reasons why subsequent accidents are relevant besides in proving notice. The opinion seems to state that the Plaintiffs only alleged that they need the subsequent accident information to prove notice in which case the appellate court would be correct. If, however, the information was requested to prove allegations of that a dangerous condition existed or to use to prove that the ride is a defective product that does cause injuries in certain ways and places then it is important and relevant to look at subsequent accidents. I mean, after all, what if this was the first person hurt out of thousands, would not the investigation of the thousand later incidents possibly reveal some problem with the ride that caused the first incident? I know the Plaintiff lawyer involved in the Williams case and he is a good lawyer so I am not sure how the appellate court could claim that he only alleged or argued that the subsequent accident information was needed for notice alone.
The court in the written opinion in Universal City Development v. Williams also limited the discovery of the names and addresses of others hurt on the ride.. The problem here is that Universal undoubtedly has or will blame the rider for doing something wrong. They also try to make it look like it was a freak accident or injury or that the Plaintiff is not hurt or got hurt somewhere else. Shouldn’t the Plaintiff be able to get names and addresses of others hurt on the ride to allow them to testify about the mechanism of injury they had, about problems or injuries they sustained on the ride or about statements made by and the identity of Universal employees who witnessed the other accidents. These and countless other relevant topics of information about the dangers of rides are kept secret from disclosure by these types of court decisions. That would be OK perhaps if thhere was some other way to find out about the information but the Theme Parks have lobbied the State Government and in return they have virtual secrecy in disclosure of theme park injuries. The Courts are supposed to balance the other branches of government but decisions like this just foster more secrecy. One wonders where the balance is if all branches of government are blocking disclosure of the ride dangers?
The theme parks will spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight cases and limit access to information about ride safety. Florida Laws have given them almost complete secrecy in how they run their rides and in the way accidents are investigated and reported. In reality they are almost completely covered up. Airline crashes are subject to government investigation and are public information. That is why we have so few. Even car crashes are a matter of public record as all accident reports for auto accidents in Florida are public information. Why not allow disclosure of theme park ride accidents? Why are they secret? Theme park injuries are secret and court decisions like this do nothing but allow the secrecy and hidden dangers to remain secret to all but the parks and their lawyers. Even in cases that are resolved in Court gag orders often keep it secret. You would love to know what I know about certain rides and who was hurt and why. Unfortunately due the secrecy maintained by the theme park industry only our clients know. Did you know that the information is also kept secret from the State and Federal Government? It is true. Call Governor Crist and ask him to stop the Theme Park Dangers Cover Up. More on this later.
For more information on this subject matter, please refer to the section on Premises Liability / Slip & Fall.