The Top 10 Deadliest California Amusement Park Accidents
Visitors to Southern California flock to the state for many reasons including the weather, the famous beaches and our equally famous amusement and theme parks such as Disneyland, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Universal Studios.
The Golden State certainly has its famed attractions, but it also has many smaller carnivals, state fairs, water parks, carnivals, animal parks, zoos, miniature golf, go kart rides and other attractions offering rides for entertainment and fun. In fact, some 300 million people visit amusement parks annually throughout the US and there are an estimated 1.7 billion rides available to them.
For many visitors, a trip to these popular California amusement parks is the highlight of their family vacation. They want to be thrilled by the fastest, tallest, most daring rides on the planet, but they also have high expectations that these same rides are completely safe. Whether they come to the West Coast from the United States or from around the world, there is an expectation that these theme park adventures are safe. Otherwise, if not for this expectation, no one would put their lives in the hands of these theme park operators.
While these attractions are built for fun and are generally quite safe, park goers should know there is not guarantee of safety. Many people have suffered minor to major injuries and even death while at these popular amusement parks. In fact, roughly 1,300 people are injured in theme park accidents annually, according to the latest statistics compiled by the National Safety Council. There have also been dozens of deaths reported at US theme parks including those here in California.
“Most of us trust these theme park operators to provide us with safe entertainment,” said Attorney James Johnson, a California amusement park injury attorney. “We take our children to these theme parks and would never knowingly place them in harm’s way. However, if someone is hurt, it’s important to take steps to protect your legal rights for the best possible outcome.”
Accidents can and do happen at theme parks and attractions throughout California. Rides malfunction, they can be defective or poorly designed and eventually parts wear out on anything that requires machinery. Employees may not be properly trained, they can make mistakes, get tired or distracted. Many of these same employees are young and inexperienced and subsequently lack good judgment when something does go wrong.
Amusement park visitors may suffer from a range of injuries from minor cuts and bruises to serious injuries and even death. Some of the more common injuries reported at these parks include whiplash, neck and back injuries, fractures, heart attacks, Traumatic Brain Injuries and even amputations. So what happens if you are injured in an amusement park accident? Your chances of recovery depend on the specific facts of your case. These facts can be analyzed by a California\lawyer who can determine whether you have grounds for a claim. It’s important to act immediately as delaying medical treatment after an injury accident may hurt your case.
While filing a claim for compensation for your losses is important to make you whole again, it’s also a way to help prevent similar or more serious accidents in the future. Indeed, several of the following accidents in the late 1990s prompted state legislators to pass laws improving the safety of amusement parks. One of these laws requires state inspections of California amusement parks as well as mandating that these parks report all accidents involving injuries that require more than simple first aid treatments.
Top 10 Most Significant California Amusement Park Accidents
- June 2, 1997 — Waterworld USA, Concord — A 17-year-old girl, Quimby Ghilotti, was killed when a 75-foot-tall water slide collapsed and injured 32 Napa High School students including six who were critically injured. The group of students allegedly ignored a lifeguard’s warning as they attempted to break a high school record to see how many of them could ride together down the winding Banzai Pipeline The weight of the group of students was more than four times the maximum the slide was built to hold and it came apart about 37 feet above ground. A total of 24 lawsuits were filed against Premier Parks, parent of the 21-acre Waterworld USA, the Napa Unified School District and Whitewater West Industries, the designer of the water slide, by those hurt by the collapse. The first was settled for $4.5 million among 14 students who were badly hurt in the accident. Most of the settlement was allocated to five or six students who suffered permanent injuries under the collapse of the water slide. Others filed separate lawsuits including Ghilotti who settled for $1.7 million in May 2000. It was determined that the theme park and the school district could have taken steps to prevent the students from putting themselves into this situation. The water park had opened just two years before this incident and had roughly 300,000 visitors the year prior to the accident.
- September 21, 2001 – Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park — This Knott’s water ride certainly lived up to its name. Lori Mason-Larez, 40, of Duarte fell 115 feet to her death while riding the Perilous Plunge water ride at Knott’s Berry Farm. The theme park, which had promoted the Perilous Plunge as the world’s tallest and steepest water ride, was faulted for permitting the 292-pound woman to ride as the restraint system was unable to secure her in the seat. The mother of five landed in shallow waters at the bottom of the ride and died of multiple blunt force trauma. The Department of Occupational Safety and Health spent six months reviewing the ride’s safety and as a result required Knotts to either restrict who is permitted on the ride based on their size or redesign the ride’s restraint system to accommodate all types of passengers. The family of Mason-Larez settled their wrongful death lawsuit against Knott’s Berry Farm and Intamin, the ride manufacturer in March 2003 for an undisclosed amount. The ride was closed nearly 12 years after it opened due to numerous problems associated with its safety.
- December 24, 1998 – Disneyland, Anaheim — A 33-year-old man was killed and two others including his wife, Lieu Thuy Vuong, 43, and Disneyland employee, Christine Carpenter, were injured on Christmas Eve when they were struck by a heavy metal cleat on the Sailing Ship Columbia. Luan Phi Dawson, 33, of Duvall, Washington was killed in front of his wife and two children who were here on a 10-day vacation. The computer programmer for Microsoft Corp., was declared brain dead following the accident and 11 hours later he was taken off life support. A Disneyland employee who was a dockhand had not been properly trained in docking procedures. As a result, the employee used the cleat attached to a nylon rope as a means to stop the ship as it was approaching the dock too quickly. This failed to stop the ship. Disney was fined $12,500 and survivors of the victim won a $25 million wrongful death settlement.
- September 5, 2003 – Disneyland, Anaheim — A 22-year-old man was killed when the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad derailed and the locomotive detached and fell on top of the first passenger car where it crushed the victim. Ten other passengers were injured in the fatal crash. An investigation into the incident determined improper maintenance was to blame for the crash.
- September 22, 2000 – Disneyland, Anaheim — A 4-year-old Anaheim boy named Brandon Zucker suffered permanent brain damage after he fell out of a “taxicab” car on the Roger Rabbit ride. He later died in January 2009. The boy fell off the ride and was dragged for roughly 10 feet before becoming trapped under another car. Park employees did not immediately call 911 for help, but instead called a supervisor in the break room. This created a crucial a 5-minute delay that rendered the child permanent brain damage. The boy had been trapped and unable to breathe for several minutes allegedly causing him permanent brain damage where he was no longer able to speak or interact with others. The accident prompted the state to require Disney to make changes to the ride. The Permanent Amusement Ride Section of the Division of Occupational Safety had the theme park install doors on the Roger Rabbit passenger cars and create a skirt at the bottom of them to prevent a child from getting caught underneath them again. An undisclosed settlement, estimated by legal experts to be between $20 million and $30 million, was reached between the boy’s parents and Disney. About eight months following this incident, Disney updated its safety measures and added paramedics on staff at the park as well as made requirements that employees call 911 immediately after an accident.
- June 2, 2001 – Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia — A 28-year-old Fontana woman named Pearl Santos was riding on the Goliath roller coaster when she suffered a fatal brain aneurysm. In her family’s wrongful-death lawsuit against the park they alleged there had been previous complaints about serious injuries on the ride, but continued to operate the popular ride. In their defense, Six Flags said the woman had a preexisting condition, however, doctors say the aneurysm was asymptomatic and not considered life-threatening. The ride, which opened in February 2000, reached speeds of 85 mph, and featured a corkscrew and a 255-foot freefall.
- February 5, 1978 – Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia — A man was killed and his wife seriously injured when a gondola car they were riding in on the Eagles Flight ride fell approximately 50 feet to the ground at the California theme park. The newlyweds were reportedly rocking the sky bucket violently causing detachment prior to the accident.
- May 30, 1996 – Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia — Cherie La Motte, 25, of Valencia, a part-time employee was struck by the Revolution roller coaster as she slipped and fell on the tracks in front of a train pull of passengers at 4 mph. She died of massive injuries in a small pit below the tracks.
- 1978 – Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia — A 20-year-old woman fell out of a car on the Colossus roller coaster because her lap bar did not lock in place because she did not fit in the car properly.
- March 10, 1998 – Disneyland, Anaheim — A 5-year-old boy had all of his toes on his left foot amputated after his foot became stuck in a train platform at the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The child’s foot got trapped in between the car’s running board and the edge of the platform when the ride stopped temporarily before pulling into the loading/unloading dock. After the incident, Disneyland made safety improvements to the ride to prevent more incidents.
Liability for Amusement Park Accidents
People who are injured in California amusement park accidents should know that there can be more than one party held responsible. Indeed, a personal injury attorney will conduct an investigation into an accident to determine who is responsible. Some of the parties liable could include the park owner, the designer of the attraction, a tour operator, government entity or a product manufacturer. Some of the typical reasons for an accident include poor maintenance, poorly trained employees or employee mistakes, manufacturer defects, poor design or defects in the manufacture of a ride and insufficient inspections.
Theme Park Accidents Make Amusement Rides Safer
If there is a bright side to all this, it’s that these accidents have helped to make amusement parks safer for everyone. After recent lawsuit filed by the survivors of 52-year-old Rosa Esparza, who was ejected from her seat on The Giant roller coaster, Six Flags installed safety belts and made a test seat so riders can make sure they fit in the seat before boarding the ride.
Indeed, when a man died on the Sailing Ship Columbia the police response took 4.5 hours, but after Disneyland allowed the Anaheim Police Department to assign a full-time officer on its grounds permanently. Cal-OSHA has stepped in on many occasions to require parks to adequately train employees, provide experienced supervision, ensure park rides are regularly maintained or replaced and define emergency procedures. New state regulations were also established to make amusement parks safer. California now mandates that amusement parks report injuries requiring medical treatment.
Protect Your Rights After a California Amusement Park Accident
If you are injured in a California amusement park accident, you should consider hiring a local attorney who specializes in these types of personal injury claims.
At Johnson Attorneys Group, we are here to help you navigate the legal system if you or a loved one is hurt in an accident. We have the experience and resources necessary to stand up to the big amusement parks, make sure your case is treated fairly and that you are given every opportunity to be properly compensated. We urge you to act quickly for the best possible results and call 800-235-6801 for a FREE CONSULTATION.