August 11, 2011
Lawyers know, of course, of the legal responsibilities that accompany the operating of such an attraction, and of the legal consequences that follow a poorly maintained ride.
The hope is that the fear of these consequences would encourage amusement parks to regularly maintain their rides to ensure that accidents never happen.
As a recently-filed lawsuit demonstrates, though, this isn’t always the case.
On September 16, 2009, the Xcelerator roller coaster at Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park in Buena Park, California malfunctioned.
The Xcelerator is a somewhat unique roller coaster, in that instead of gaining its momentum from a large initial drop off of a steep incline, it is launched to high speeds from the start by a powerful catapult.
The accident was caused by a snapped cable that failed shortly after launch of the Xcelerator’s passenger train.
Because of the cable failure, the train didn’t gain enough momentum to fully clear the first vertical climb of the track.
It subsequently descended back down the climb, crashing through debris and cable remnants that had accumulated on the track until it violently stopped near the launch area.
Adam Guevara, the plaintiff, was in the rearmost seat of the roller coaster during the accident, and, according to the complaint, took the brunt of the numerous impacts the train had while careening backwards after the accident.
Guevara is suing the park’s owner over the physical injuries he sustained because of those impacts, along with the emotional trauma.
Hot Doc: Guevara v. Cedar Fair LP
Really, this is just a fairly standard negligence case.
Luckily for Guevara, California conducted an investigation into the accident shortly after it occurred
The findings reported that, because of improper maintenance, the Xcelerator was an “accident waiting to happen” on September 16, 2009.
A large chunk of the complaint is devoted to the specifics of why it was improperly maintained, with a big factor being some confusing sets of safety manuals (which explains why the Xcelerator’s manufacturer was joined as a defendant).
Although the report very clearly finds negligence as causing or at least being a major contributor to the accident, the question remains on damages.
The complaint states that Guevara was “severely injured” because of the accident, but it doesn’t get too specific on how he was injured.
This is somewhat unusual for a personal injury complaint, since most others go into intimate detail about how a plaintiff has been injured, and how terrible his or her life has been since.
The damages question is relatively insignificant, though, since common sense would tell us that at least some injury must have occurred for anyone sitting in the back of the roller coaster during its crash.
And even if damages don’t amount to much, it’s likely that the defendants will want to settle this one as soon as possible.
Not because legal costs could get out of control (which is nonetheless true), but because of the negative publicity this lawsuit brings up.
The last thing that either the park owner or the ride manufacturer want is for more people to feel afraid of riding roller coasters.