Walt Disney World is one of the most popular theme parks in the world, and, as with any place that involves rides and large crowds of people, there have been injuries, and there have been lawsuits. Personal injury cases with Disney tend to be settled before trial—rarely do these cases go to court and when they do, the plaintiff rarely wins.
At any one time, according to David Koenig, the author of Realityland: True Life Adventures at Walt Disney World, there are about 100 active lawsuits that have been filed against them, many of which stem from personal injuries.
In this article, we will talk about several of the most well-known personal injury cases against Disney and how they played out.
The Severed Fingertip Case
A UK tourist’s fingers were severed on Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme park ride. Though his name was not released, the man was among twelve other persons to have suffered “significant injuries” on that ride during the same three-month period, including a twelve-year-old boy. The case did not make it to court, but the few details that emerged highlighted an important part of Florida law regarding personal injury cases. Florida operates under a comparative fault doctrine, where each person is responsible for paying damages that correlate to how at-fault they were.
In the case of the UK tourist, paramedics reported that the man admitted dangling his hand outside of the transport vehicle. Had this case gone to court, it’s likely that would have formed the basis of Disney’s argument. And in the state of Florida, a court might say that only leaves Disney 10% at fault, and therefore only responsible for 10% of the medical care the man would have received. Like most cases involving Disney, this was settled through an out-of-court agreement.
The Nacho Cheese Lawsuit
One of the most common misconceptions about food-related lawsuits is that they are all frivolous. Everyone has heard about the McDonald’s hot coffee case, where a woman spilled hot coffee on herself and was awarded a large settlement that included punitive damages related to the sale of coffee at such a temperature that the company had already received a large volume of complaints. While the burns suffered by the victim resulted in skin grafts and two years of ongoing care, the case became the center of the tort reform arguments of the day, with some feeling that it was a prime example of frivolous litigation.
The nacho cheese case of 2011 is almost too similar. The 4-year-old son of Michael and Mia Harris opened a packet of hot nacho cheese and it squirted onto his face, causing him to experience second- and third-degree burns. The parents sued for intentional affliction of emotional distress and negligence on the basis that both the parents and the child had a reasonable expectation that any food served to children would be safe to consume, and requested that Disney pay the boy’s medical costs and other compensatory and punitive damages. This case was settled out of court.
The “It’s a Small World” Lawsuit
Jose Martinez and his wife sued Disneyland after Martinez, who was disabled, was stuck on the “It’s a Small World” ride for half an hour. Martinez was a quadriplegic who also suffered from panic attacks and autonomic dysreflexia, which can cause blood pressure to skyrocket to life-threatening levels in response to stress. The ride was stuck near the end and the other passengers were successfully evacuated. Martinez was unable to leave with them due to his paralysis. He was stuck on the ride for half an hour and suffered emotional distress and physical trauma because of his condition.
He sued, claiming that Disneyland should have known the ride was malfunctioning because it had broken down twice that same year. He also claimed that Disneyland needed to warn disabled patients that there was no way to evacuate in this type of situation. A federal judge agreed, at least in part, awarding him damages.
Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has been the target of many lawsuits, and there are several apparent trends. First, Disney does not want to go to court. It would rather settle outside than be dragged into litigation. Second, if they go to court, they go to win — and historically, they do. If you find yourself in a dispute with Disney, you’ll need more than just to have your ducks in a row; you’ll need the services of a competent attorney who is experienced in cases involving theme parks to get the compensation you deserve.