In 2008, a man in Valencia, California was hit by a rollercoaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and filed suit against the park for negligence. In the seven years since the injury there have been two trials and an appeal of the second verdict in favor of Six Flags. However, the California appellate court upheld the lower courts ruling, and Six Flags avoided liability despite the grave nature of the injuries.
When Victims Contribute to the Cause of Their Injuries
This is an interesting case as the verdict relied directly on the actions of the victim in contributing to his injuries. He had actually already ridden the rollercoaster, and exited, but then entered a restricted area to retrieve a baseball cap that had fallen off of his head during the ride. Park employees told him not to enter the area, but he ignored them and went after his hat, scaling two fences in the process. At that point the rollercoaster hit him, and caused the injuries.
The situation is a bit different from scenarios where riders are actually injured during a ride, or spectators suffer injury from ride components that break free. The question before the court revolved around whether the park had done everything possible to warn of the danger of entering the area, as well as erecting sufficiently daunting barricades. The court decided that it was not required to make the area completely ‘impenetrable’, and that the victim had contributed to his fate by deliberately ignoring the warnings of park employees.
Negligence Lawsuits Must Be Based on Unreasonable Standard of Care
The core of a negligence lawsuit is whether the park used a reasonable standard of care in preventing injuries to attendees. Every park has areas that are off limits, and as long as there are clear warning signs, fences or barricades then it is hard for accident victims to claim they were exposed to unforeseen danger. There remains the question of whether the rollercoaster design brought it too close to areas where riders or spectators might wander, but the court seemed to feel that was not a central issue.
The ruling against the victim underscores how risky litigation can be, especially when protracted over many years. One has to assume that at some point the man did receive some type of settlement offer, but by holding out for a large damage award he ended up with nothing to show for eight years of court litigation.