The Mouse just can’t keep out of court.
In researching my latest book, The People v. Disneyland: How Lawsuits & Lawyers Transformed the Magic, I attempted to analyze every single case filed against the park in Orange County Superior Court—in addition to hundreds of cases filed in Los Angeles, as well as in municipal courts throughout Orange County.
Last week, I returned to the Courthouse to see if Disneyland’s latest accusers have learned anything from the secrets I shared in the book. The verdict: yes… and no.
So far this year, nearly one dozen new cases have been filed against the park in Orange County Superior Court (or transferred into the court from another county). One lesson they took to heart was to try to file their case outside of Mickey-friendly Orange County. Unfortunately for many, that meant unnecessarily dragging out the proceedings, as Disney reflexively argued to have the case moved closer to home—and typically got its wish in slip-and-falls and other premises liability cases.
My main message—don’t sue unless you’ve got an ironclad case—was apparently ignored by several plaintiffs with weaker cases. One in particular will have a tough road to hoe. On the evening of November 6, 2016, after riding Pirates of the Caribbean, a mother and son were walking back over the bridge out front, heading for the “stroller corral.” As the bridge started to slope downward, the young boy began to run, when suddenly his chest collided with a thick nylon rope, he flew off his feet, and slammed to the ground, striking his head on the pavement and knocking him unconscious.
A firefighter in the crowd helped bring the boy to. He was taken by ambulance to a local hospital and spent three days in ICU, where he was diagnosed with a concussion and multiple cranial fractures.
The family’s case, however, appears to have some holes. Most importantly, they admit that the boy was running—an in-park no-no and support for Disney’s counter that the boy was not being cautious.
Second, they claim “the rope was unguarded.” It seems to me that the purpose of a crowd control rope is to itself be the guard, in place of an attendant, to keep people or strollers in one area and out of another.
And, third, they say there was insufficient lighting on the bridge because the park had intentionally dimmed them in preparation for the “Neon Light Show” or the “Pain [sic] the Night Parade.” The parade runs through Fantasyland and down Main Street, nowhere near New Orleans Square.
This year’s other cases are a mix of the predictable and the unusual. There are the ever-present slip-and-falls (a woman slipped on the wet floor at Goofy’s Kitchen, another wiped out in front of Downtown Disney’s Starbucks), as well as the all-too-common charges of wrongful termination and disability discrimination (a lead receiver was canned after taking off time to cope with anxiety).
There was also a second fall outside Starbucks—a woman was exiting the Downtown Disney coffee shop in her motorized scooter, but didn’t clear the doorway and was ejected on to her leg and rear. She claims Disney built the doorway too narrow.
The most shocking case involved a 24-year-old nursing student who visited Disney California Adventure on June 6, 2014. She was sitting on a park bench in the Paradise Pier area, enjoying cool drink when allegedly a six-inch metal bolt “bulleted” off the California Screamin’ roller coaster and “shot her in the head… with such force it literally shot her off the bench,” knocking her unconscious and sending her flying to the ground.
Her friend notified Disney, which “immediately shut the ride down for maintenance” and sent a nurse to attend to the fallen guest. As soon as she came to, she felt nauseous and began to vomit. The nurse reportedly said not to worry. She was only experiencing “normal vomiting” and should grow concerned only if she was “projectile vomiting.”
Nonetheless, the victim insisted on being taken to the hospital. In the emergency room, the vomiting continued, and she couldn’t find words when she tried to speak. She was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, which would give her severe headaches, trouble concentrating, balance problems that caused her to fall, and seizures, one of which occurred while she was driving, leading to an accident and loss of her license. She now prefers to stay home, confining herself to a dark room.
So far during her case, which was transferred from Los Angeles to Orange County, her attorney says:
- Disney employees admitted a park custodial worker saw the bolt shoot off roller coaster and strike her in the head.
- A bolt was found to be missing from green roller coaster car #6.
- The recovered bolt apparently hadn’t been tightened (there was no Loctite on the bolt and no marks from a torque wrench).
- The coaster car had been in maintenance where it received a fresh coat of paint, but evidently it wasn’t fully repaired before being returned to service, since workmen forgot to tighten the bolt and use Loctite.
- OSHA cited Disneyland for violating its rules and returning the car to service before it was fixed.
But there was one case unlike any I’ve ever encountered. On February 6, 2015, a girl boarded Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, sliding to the far side of the vehicle, her long, braided hair hanging over her right shoulder. But shortly after the ride began a “portion of the ride caught her hair, causing her head to be violently jerked backwards” and slamming her head “against the corner of the hard wall.” The girl “experienced terror and an immediate apprehension that her hair would be completely torn from her scalp or that she would be pulled entirely from the car.”
The child began screaming, but allegedly the operator didn’t immediately stop the ride. Even when he did, although the victim was “visibly traumatized and injured, when the ride stopped, the attendant merely looked at her without offering medical attention or even inquiring as to her well being.”
Her lawyer said the girl’s hair was “an ordinary and foreseeable length and style,” and Disney should have foreseen such a hazardous situation in designing the ride.
I’ll say this for Disney: if in 62 years they’d never encountered such problem, I’m not quite sure how they could have anticipated it back in 1955.
Join the comments below or on Facebook. We appreciate your thoughts!