In the realm of personal injury litigation, few cases have been as misunderstood and vilified as the McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit of 1992. The public narrative spun a tale of a greedy plaintiff capitalizing on her own carelessness to win a lottery-style payout. Yet, the underlying truth showcased a vulnerable 79-year-old, Stella Liebeck, who sustained third-degree burns from coffee temperatures that verged on recklessness, requiring a grueling two-year recovery.
Fast forward to today, another high-profile case has emerged: a woman filed a lawsuit against Walt Disney World Resort, citing serious injuries sustained from a water slide. To the casual observer, the mention of a lawsuit stemming from an "injurious wedgie" might sound trivial or even comical. But as we've learned from the McDonald’s case, initial reactions can be misleading.
Emma McGuinness and her family visited Typhoon Lagoon water park in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, on October 14, 2019, to celebrate Emma’s 30th birthday.
While at the park, Emma decided to ride the Humunga Kowabunga water slide. Here’s how Disney bills the water slide on its website:
“Plummet down Mount Mayday for a near-vertical, 5-story drop—in the dark! You won’t know what’s coming as you zoom 214 feet downhill in the dark and spray your way to a surprise ending!”
According to the lawsuit, which was filed in the Circuit Court for Orange County, Florida, when Emma impacted the slide and the water at the bottom, her swimsuit was “painfully forced between her legs,” and water was “violently forced inside her.”
Emma was rushed to the hospital, where she was treated for bleeding, damage to her internal organs, and a hernia. According to the lawsuit, Emma suffered “severe and permanent bodily injury” as well as mental anguish and lost wages.
The cause of action against Disney World Resort
Emma’s personal injury lawsuit accuses Disney of negligence for:
- Failing to warn riders about the risks involved with the water slide,
- Failing to provide protective clothing, and
- Other design and safety failures.
In addition to the count of negligence, a second count, “loss of consortium,” relates to Emma McGuinness’ husband, Edward McGuinness.
“As a direct and proximate result of Disney’s negligence as described above, Edward McGuinness has suffered loss of his wife’s care, comfort, consortium, support and services,” the complaint reads.
Learn more about loss of consortium, including how to prove loss of consortium and what damages can be recovered.
How common are amusement park accidents?
Every year, thousands of people in the United States are injured on amusement park rides. Unfortunately, data is not well maintained, and estimates of exactly how many people are injured vary wildly from 4,400 to 30,000 people per year.
“Right now, it is hard to get a clear picture of what’s happening because there’s a patchwork system of regulation and enforcement,” said Tracy Mehan, a research manager at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio who conducted a study on child injuries at amusement parks. “We need a national injury reporting system for all mobile and fixed-site rides.”
Walt Disney World Resort is certainly not the only amusement park to be sued. Enjuris attorney Mike Redondo discusses liability after a tragic accident at Florida’s ICON amusement park.
Who’s liable for amusement park accidents?
Amusement park lawsuits based on negligence
If an amusement park accident was caused by the carelessness of the amusement park or an amusement park employee, a negligence claim is appropriate.
A plaintiff in an amusement park accident lawsuit based on negligence must establish that:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid harming the employee,
- The defendant breached its duty, and
- The breach was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.
If an employee is negligent, the amusement park can be sued under the theory of respondeat superior.
Common examples of negligence include:
- Failing to post or enforce warning signs
- Failing to train ride operators
- Failing to maintain safe equipment
- Failing to inspect amusement park rides
- Failing to react to an emergency situation
Amusement park lawsuits based on product liability
If an amusement park accident is caused by a defective component, a product liability lawsuit might be appropriate. Generally speaking, three types of defects can give rise to a product liability lawsuit:
|Manufacturing defect||Design defect||Failure to warn|
|A defectively manufactured product is one that—though properly designed—left the manufacturer in a condition other than intended.||A product is defectively designed if it fails to perform as safely as a reasonable person would expect, even when used as intended.||Manufacturers have a duty to warn users of the dangers that can be reasonably anticipated and that are inherent in their products.|
It’s important to understand that no personal injury, regardless of its origin or initial perception, should be downplayed or dismissed. Both the McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit and the Disney water slide case underscore the unforeseen dangers that can lurk behind everyday events. Every individual, be it a consumer or a visitor, deserves a safe experience. If you or a loved one has suffered due to another party's negligence, it's vital to understand your rights. Ensuring you receive the damages you deserve begins with consulting an experienced personal injury attorney.