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Widener Univ. School of Law

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

More on the Cyclone Lawsuit

The plaintiff's attorney in the case I discussed here sent along the complaint and exhibits to it: Download Cyclone.pdf [PDF].  Readers who aren't interested in the minutiae of roller coaster operations should probably move along now.

There are a couple of interesting things in the complaint.

First, although the news coverage seems to suggest otherwise, the lawsuit is not just against the city; it also names Cyclone Coasters, Inc., the entity that operates the ride (which is owned by the city).  The complaint includes as an exhibit the license agreement between Cyclone Coasters and the city, and it's interesting in its own right, just to see how such an attraction operates.

Second, and probably more interesting, the complaint does seem to allege that the ride was supposed to have a trim brake at the top of the first hill.  The decedent's neck allegedly snapped on the first (85-foot) drop.  The complaint directly ties that to the alleged failure to replace the "top hill trim brake."  There's not really anywhere else that a brake could be that would have had an effect on the rate of speed.  That term also appears in the license agreement (at page 62 of the PDF) as something that was supposed to be "replaced" in "Year 1" of the license agreement (which commenced in 2006).

I've ridden the Cyclone at least a dozen times and looked at a lot of photos, and see nothing that I could identify as a brake of any sort at the top of the lift hill.  I do believe there is a brake on one of the turnarounds, used primarily for train blocking (i.e., if there are two trains operating, that's part of the system to prevent the possibility of a collision).  But I have trouble squaring that with the specific phrase "top hill trim brake."

So either there's a brake I haven't noticed (possible) or they're in fact referring to the turnaround trim brake.  That, I think, is plausible.  Go look at the picture here.  The trim brake is on the far left turnaround (I think you can see some of the mechanics in this picture too).  If you then look at this picture you can see that the track in fact goes under itself -- i.e., that at that part of the ride, there's a top layer of track and a lower layer of track.  Perhaps the "top hill" reference is to the fact that the brakes are on the top of that part of the ride?  Update: To clarify, if this is the case, it causes some trouble for the factual theory laid out in the complaint, since the trim brake midway through the ride (rather obviously) couldn't slow down the ride on the first drop.  There are other theories in the complaint -- that, for instance, the ride should have been stopped due to the decedent's injuries and so on.

You can see the trim brake fairly clearly here (if you can watch without throwing up):

I don't know.  I've got inquiries into some people who might be able to help, and hopefully I'll have more information.

--BC

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