Suit Filed Over Ride Injuries
A Utah couple filed a lawsuit Monday against Disneyland over a derailment on the Space Mountain roller coaster, alleging that park employees tried to conceal the seriousness of the accident from investigators.
Disneyland’s response to the accident a year ago today is a major element of the lawsuit filed by Jonathan and Julie Woodcock, who contend that the park may have delayed medical help and either failed to report the accident or mischaracterized its seriousness to Cal/OSHA, the state agency that investigates amusement park accidents.
Julie Woodcock “was there to celebrate her 40th birthday and they left in an ambulance,” said their attorney, Ryan Saba, with the Beverly Hills law offices of James R. Rosen. “That’s just not right.”
Nine people were taken to the hospital, with problems ranging from neck lacerations to back injuries, after a wheel assembly broke from a ride car, causing an emergency stop. The car buckled and jumped from the tracks, according to the lawsuit, and several people were suspended on a track 40 feet in the air for as long as 45 minutes before being rescued.
The accident--and subsequent response by Disneyland, local authorities and state inspectors--highlights issues that are still being worked out in the state law regulating amusement parks. The law took effect last year, but regulations for enforcing it are still being drafted.
Although Disneyland reported the accident and an inspector visited the scene, the state never launched a full investigation, saying it was satisfied that Disneyland was fixing the problem.
State officials said Monday that if the same accident occurred today, the response would be different and a full investigation would be likely. They have no record of the inspection, who reported the accident or how it was reported, or Disneyland’s follow-up repairs.
The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, also alleges negligence and infliction of emotional distress, among other claims. The Woodcocks seek a jury trial and unspecified damages.
Jonathan Woodcock suffered 13 bulging disks, nerve damage from the base of his neck to the bottom of his spine, a dislocated jaw, cracked teeth, a ripped right rotator cuff and joint disorder, according to the suit. He suffers from chronic pain, Saba said. His wife suffered a collapsed arch in her right foot; permanent damage to her right knee, hip and shoulder; and two herniated disks, the suit says.
Disneyland officials declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said they believe their response was appropriate. They also said they reported the problem to state officials even though they were not yet required to do so.
At the time of the accident, an Anaheim fire captain criticized the park in his report, noting that Disneyland employees tried to keep the incident “as stealthy as possible” by not revealing the scope of the accident and injuries. Firefighters also said they overheard security officers congratulating one another for keeping detailed information off emergency radios.
Authorities later raised their concerns with Disneyland, and Assistant City Manager Tom Wood said Monday that the working relationship between the Fire Department and the park is very good.
But Saba, the Woodcocks’ attorney, said he plans to investigate all avenues of Disneyland’s response before evacuating the passengers from the ride. Any delay could have affected their injuries, he said.
State officials said Monday that they were notified about the accident at the time and sent an inspector to the park. But to this day, they do not know what caused the derailment or what repair work was done.
Under a state law that took effect last year, amusement parks are required to report injury accidents on rides and the state has the authority to investigate incidents and order changes.