Walt Disney Co., the world's largest theme-park operator, is seeking to overturn a court ruling that the company says would regulate roller coasters, such as the Matterhorn Bobsleds and Space Mountain, the way buses are regulated.
California's Supreme Court on Thursday heard arguments on whether Disney and other theme- park companies should be held to the same heightened safety standards as train and bus operators. The case stems from the death of a 23-year-old woman after riding on the Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland in Anaheim.
California is home to some of the nation's most visited amusement parks including Universal Studios Hollywood and Disney's California Adventure and Disneyland. If Disney loses, lawyers for injured riders may have an easier time getting their cases before a jury or negotiating settlements.
"Disney doesn't like to settle these things," said Greg Keating, a professor at the University of Southern California's law school. "It might make it easier to get a settlement because there will be more liability on behalf of Disney."
Richard Derevan, a lawyer for Disney, told the justices that under the higher standard of care, "something could always be safer. The ride could be slower, the curves less sharp, the hills less steep. The ride may lose its purpose for being."
Six Flags, which operates Magic Mountain and Marine World in California, and industry groups filed court papers supporting Disney's position, arguing that the rides provide entertainment rather than transportation. They say it is unfair to subject amusement parks to a law passed in 1872, when the public needed assurances to ride new technologies such as railroads.
The justices also questioned lawyers for both sides on whether the common-carrier standard should apply to Disneyland's Monorail, which carries visitors around the park, and rides such as the Back to the Future Ride at Universal Studios, which simulates movement.