Jeff Rasansky, a Dallas Super Lawyer for 10 consecutive years answers pending questions about the recent accident at Six Flags theme park which resulted in the death of a patron.
A Texas woman was fatally injured from a fall off a roller coaster at the Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, reported on July 19th. This fatal accident is raising many legal questions from both local residents and visitors. The devastation to the family is compounded because the woman’s two children, who were also on the roller coaster, witnessed the horrific scene of their mother falling to her wrongful death. According to the report, one witness said the victim, Rosy Esparza, had asked a worker if her restraint was in the proper place before the coaster ride began because she was concerned.
With an investigation actively underway to determine the exact cause of the accident, many questions still remain. In an effort to sort out questions from the public about this tragedy Jeff Rasansky, managing partner of Rasansky Law Firm, explains some of the most pressing legal questions.
1) There seem to be a lot of potential parties here: Who is potentially liable when a visitor to a theme park is killed on a roller coaster?
The primary liability will be assessed against the theme park, even if it’s later discovered that an employee was at fault. That’s because the park is vicariously responsible for making sure all employees are properly trained. Even so, that doesn’t mean that the individual employee won’t also be potentially liable, depending on what he or she did prior to the accident. The roller coaster manufacturer may also have some liability, as well as the engineering firm that is responsible for the coaster’s design. As the real story of what happened emerges, it will be more clear which parties will be in the “liable” category.
2) One news story said that the woman who died tried to tell the roller coaster workers that she wasn’t secured properly. How will that fact play into any case that is brought?
This reported comment will have to be supported by testimony from others, and it will have to survive any testimony from the park’s employees to the contrary. A judge will be asked to allow any testimony about what the victim might have said, and it will be up to the jury to decide who is telling the truth. If the victim’s alleged statement is allowed to be presented in court, then I would expect the attorney for the family to argue that if her concerns were ignored, then that is tantamount to a reckless disregard for her safety. It’s also worth noting that if the victim’s family members are the only people who heard her alleged protest before the ride started, then that must be weighed against whether any “neutral” witnesses heard the same thing, or heard nothing at all. The family members stand to collect a recovery in this case, so their testimony will be scrutinized, the judge and jury will consider that dynamic.
3) What responsibilities or obligations do visitors/roller coaster riders have to look out for their own safety?
A lot of amusement parks include disclaimers on their tickets or posted on their entrances about that exact dynamic, but such disclaimers rarely carry the weight of law. If a theme park customer is riding a roller coaster without doing anything differently than a “regular” customer would do, then they should not be held to a different standard. For example, if you’re drunk and standing up in your seat on a roller coaster or a Ferris wheel, that will go a long way toward putting liability on you instead of the theme park. If you’re behaving normally and didn’t do anything anyone else wouldn’t do, then that will point liability toward the park and others.
4) How will insurance play into this? It seems that the state department of insurance requires roller coasters to carry it, and to be inspected, etc.
Theme park operators indeed are required to carry insurance for such tragedies, but that doesn’t mean their insurance provider won’t contest the coverage depending on what the final investigation reveals. If the insurer can demonstrate that the park failed to conduct safety checks or train its employees properly, then there is the very real chance that coverage could be denied, which likely would result in another legal proceeding between those parties. Based on what I’ve seen in similar cases, though, the insurer likely will pay some amount to the victim’s survivors and try to recoup their losses through subrogation.
5) You probably don’t see a lot of these cases; are they special in any way?
Amusement park injury cases are rare, which causes them to stick in the public’s mind. It has been more than a decade since there was a death at this same theme park, but the people in the community can recall that accident with perfect clarity today. Another interesting aspect to these cases is the fact that they almost always occur when family members are present, which lends extra emotion to the legal cases that follow. If this case reaches a jury, you can bet that more than one of the jurors will have attended the same theme park based on its regional popularity, even including the possibility that they have ridden the same roller coaster.