May 19, 2006
Chicken Little and the Law
Almost a year ago, the California Supreme Court ruled that amusement park rides such as roller coasters trigger the common carrier status under tort law. Not an intuitive outcome, but, as I wrote, it was actually a fairly straightforward outcome given the statute and caselaw (see this entry for my early thoughts on the issue).
There was much gnashing of teeth in the amusement industry, including this:
“It puts roller coasters out of business.” – John Robinson, California Attractions and Parks Association
Not surprisingly, it's done no such thing, and in fact probably has had (and will have) no substantial effect on tort litigation relating to amusement ride injuries or on the building or opening of new rides in the state of California. (Nor, interestingly, did the pending California case make it into any of the amusement companies' SEC filings, so far as I can tell, while I'd imagine the potential of eliminating roller coasters would count as material...)
There's no reason to go through all of the reasons in detail (see this entry for my view at the time). Briefly, though, a good number of states have applied common carrier status to amusement rides for decades, with no discernable impact on parks and rides opening and operating, in addition to the fact that, in general, the incentives are such that -- especially for well-capitalized large parks -- parks already usually comply with the theoretically higher standard of a common carrier.
There's a broader point too, though (and here's where you can tell I'm avoiding grading), and that's about how huge pronouncements like that will often come back to bite you. So -- an invitation: Think back to predictions of doom or disaster from any side of a tort-related issue, check to see if said doom or disaster has come to be, and let me know about them.
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