California Supreme Court: Amusement Parks Liable for Safety

SAN FRANCISCO -- Operators of roller coasters and other amusement park rides must be held to the same safety standards that apply to buses, planes and other modes of public transport, the California Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The state's highest court ruled 4-3 in favor of the family of a 23-year-old woman who sued the Walt Disney Co. after she suffered a brain injury after riding the Indiana Jones attraction at Disneyland in Anaheim five years ago. The woman eventually died.

The court said amusement park rides are "common carriers" - a legal category that also includes trains, elevators and ski lifts. Operators are thus legally liable to provide the same degree of care and safety required by other common carriers.

Plaintiff's attorney Barry Novack said the Supreme Court ruling "upheld the rights of consumers to have thrill rides that are safe."

But amusement park operators worried the ruling would lead to more lawsuits without making parks safer, said John Robinson, chief executive of the California Attractions and Parks Association, which filed a legal brief supporting Disney.

Disney attorneys said they may ask for a rehearing of the case.

"While we disagree with the decision, it has nothing to do with the safety of our parks," the company said in a statement. Our commitment to guest safety always has been, and continues to be unwavering."

Christina Moreno, who had traveled to California on her honeymoon, suffered a brain hemorrhage and ran up more than $1.3 million in medical expenses in her native Spain before she died in 2000. In their wrongful death lawsuit, her family attributed her injuries to the "violent shaking and stresses imposed by the ride."

Moreno's family plans to move ahead with a civil lawsuit against Disney, Novack said.

On Monday, a 4-year-old boy passed out on "Mission: Space" at Walt Disney World in Florida, an intense ride that simulates a rocket launch and trip to Mars. When the ride ended, the boy was limp and could not be revived. An autopsy showed no trauma, so further tests were scheduled.