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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Disney Suit Settled

I'm a few days late on it, but since I've written previously about it, it's worth noting that Disney settled the injury lawsuit relating to a rider's death from a brain aneurysm on its Indiana Jones ride.

The suit has had two potentially significant rulings in it, one evidence-related, one torts-related.

Most recently, the trial court ruled that the park's subsequent changes to the ride could be entered into evidence.  The story is maddeningly silent on the basis for the ruling and how it jibes with California's Evidence Code's subsequent remedial measures exclusion.  One amusement law blog identifies the ruling as the biggest amusement-related legal story of 2006; I'm not ready to go that far without knowing more about the reason given by the court.  I imagine it was being nominally offered to show feasibility or something other than negligence.  If so, it's a fairly mundane ruling.

Back in 2005, in the same case, the California Supreme Court held that the jury in the case should be instructed to evaluate the ride under the common carrier standard.  As I noted last May, this resulted in much gnashing of teeth, including an outright prediction by a spokesman for the California Attractions and Parks Association that it "puts roller coasters out of business."  It has, of course, done no such thing (just as I had predicted).  Another publicly-traded company, Cedar Fair, is building yet another coaster in California and even purchased another major park in the state as part of buying Paramount Parks.

(As an aside, it's not quite as crazy as you might think to conclude that a coaster or other amusement ride is a common carrier under the broad California statute in question.  Should it be one?  That's a different question.  But the court opinion is not ridiculous.  I wrote about it here.)

In any event, it's interesting that it settled; I think the evidence of amusement rides causing aneurysms any more than sneezing, jumping, and the like is pretty sparse (somewhere there's an industry-funded study that suggests no significant link).  But I bet one of the other evidentiary rulings was to admit expert testimony on causation, creating enough risk to justify settlement, especially by Disney, who is known for settling most everything.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/tortsprof/2007/01/disney_suit_set.html

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