TortsProf Blog

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Widener Commonwealth Law School

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Six Flags Case Shaping Up

Depositions have evidently begun in the case against Six Flags for the injuries caused on its Superman: Tower of Power ride at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom (in which a girl's feet were severed).  The factual theory of defect appears to be shaping up:

An amusement park ride where a girl's legs were severed last summer was not designed to stop automatically in case a cable broke, the park's maintenance chief said in a deposition.
John Schmidt, ride maintenance manager for Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom, said the Superman Tower of Power should have been designed differently.

"Do you think that this ride ought to shut down when a cable breaks?" attorney Larry Franklin asked Schmidt in the Nov. 30 deposition.

"Yes," Schmidt answered.

The ride -- manufactured by Intamin -- is fairly common, and I doubt any of them have such a feature.  (I actually doubt that similar rides do either.)


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Why isn't "the ride should stop when a cable breaks" the same thing as "it's your fault we happened to be under a falling tree because you were driving over the speed limit"? The injury occurred because the cable broke (which seems like a good enough theory of res ipsa loquitur liability to even me) not because the ride didn't stop and put the girl in the wrong place at the wrong time. (And if the girl is in mid-air when the cable breaks, isn't stopping the ride worse?) But perhaps I'm confused over the chronology of the incident. Of course, at this stage of discovery, plaintiffs have an injury and take a scattershot approach to theories of liability, and choose from the deposition testimony what story sticks best at trial.

What sort of ludicrous lottery damages are the Lasitters asking for that Six Flags isn't able to settle this? It's hard to believe that they wouldn't immediately offer something reasonable: the bad publicity alone has to be costing them millions.

Posted by: Ted | Dec 19, 2007 6:45:24 AM

Good questions, Ted -- and the end of the first paragraph is the key thing, I think. The discussions I've seen have indicated that nobody yet has a good grasp of the chronology. Here's one way that it could make a difference:

1. Ride is pulled to the top, stops.

2. Cable breaks, wraps around girl's legs. (Could have broken while on the way up; there are multiple cables, so this is possible.)

3. Ride carriage drops; cables wrapped around legs sever feet.

In that scenario, the ride continuing to operate after the cable broke would indeed be the cause of the (worst part of the) injuries. It may be that the cable snapping itself caused the injuries by slicing through her legs, or that it snapped while being dropped in which case the ride stopping would likely have made no difference at all; I just don't know. But there is at least one plausible scenario where it is important.

As for the second inquiry, it's stunning to me, too, that the case is actually proceeding. The discussions over who was going to test the cable was going rather slowly, which made me think that they were going to settle it quickly. The company is heavily leveraged, but they still have the cash that this should settle and fast. I'm not ready to say it's necessarily because the family is being unreasonable; the company has made a lot of what I think of as foolish decisions in other contexts. But it's still extremely odd that the case is proceeding.

Posted by: Bill Childs | Dec 19, 2007 6:53:55 AM

Didn't the Park have an obligation to protect its employees under OSHA. The broken cable would have presented a danger to workers nearby and the area housing the cable should have been guarded to protect employees from contact in the event of breakage. Perhaps all of this is a design flaw. Per the amusement ride industry's own self regulation the Park had an obligation to report these situations to the Manufacturer. I guess they (the Park & Manufacturer) never heard of a Safety Envelope.

Posted by: Ken Martin | Dec 23, 2007 12:43:52 PM

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