June 30, 2006
Another Disney Death
A number of readers have pointed out that another young rider died on a ride at Walt Disney World. This time, the twelve-year-old rider was on the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, which is by modern measures a relatively tame coaster.
CNN.com is reporting (in a surprisingly prominent "Breaking News" banner headline) that the boy's preliminary autopsy report indicated a congenital heart defect. As I noted in the Mission: Lawsuit post and comments, a substantial percentage of deaths on rides relate to (usually unknown) medical conditions, typically brain or heart issues. Typically, an expert explains later that if the ride hadn't triggered it, a bumpy road or a sneeze or something else might have.
And so we are again faced with the same question: where, if anywhere, is there liability? The ride did what it was meant to do -- elevate heart rate, create excitement, and so on. But that action will, in some small but non-zero number of riders, injure or cause death.
Just to identify the contrast, consider the other recent tragic case where a six-year-old fell to his death from a Ferris Wheel, apparently panicking while at the top of the ride. I've posted about it here and here. The first question many people ask is why a six-year-old was riding by himself -- and that's a good question, and should be considered (and I address it more in those posts). But my bigger question, given the fact that people go to parks to escape and forget their responsibilities, is why the manufacturer or operator permits riders 42 inches tall or shorter to ride alone. Based on average heights, that means four-year-olds could ride in a gondola-style ride vehicle with no restraints and no supervision. The only surprise is that this doesn't happen more often.
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