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Disney goes to trial over safety of Tower of Terror

#1 User is offline   QuickGold 

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Posted 15 April 2010 - 10:49 AM

Orlando Sentinel

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By Jason Garcia and Scott Powers

Orlando Sentinel

In a rare thrill-ride personal injury lawsuit that has made it to trial, Walt Disney World is in court this week defending the safety record of one of its most popular attractions.

An Orange County jury heard opening arguments Wednesday in a case pitting Disney against Marvin Cohen, a now-80-year-old Pennsylvania man who suffered a stroke twelve years ago after riding the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, at the theme park now called Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Cohen’s lawyers intend to show he was a physically active housing developer who suffered a tear in an artery leading to his brain while riding Tower of Terror with his family on March 28, 1998. That, they say, caused a debilitating stroke a few weeks later.

What makes the case particularly unusual is that Cohen’s lawyers are not arguing that something went wrong with Tower of Terror, such as equipment failure or operational malfunction. Rather, the ride itself — simulating an out-of-control elevator in a creepy hotel — is on trial.

Last year, the Orlando Sentinel reviewed hundreds of personal injury cases filed against Central Florida theme parks since the start of 2004, including Universal Orlando, SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens, and found 26 other cases claiming properly-functioning rides caused injuries. Most of them were settled or dismissed. None went to trial.

Cohen’s lawyers intend to present evidence that the Tower of Terror, which features a succession of drops and ascents, creates a whiplash effect that can seriously injure even healthy riders.

“This case is about the placement of show or entertainment over safety,” Cohen’s lead attorney, Barry Novack, told jurors.

Cohen’s suit accuses Disney of multiple shortfalls with Tower of Terror, including ignoring recommendations from its own safety experts when building the attraction and failing to provide appropriate warnings to guests about the safety risks.

Disney’s lead attorney, Ron Cabaniss of Cabaniss Smith Toole & Wiggins, outlined a multi-part defense for the jury Wednesday. First, Cabaniss said, evidence will show the ride is safe, carefully planned, tested and monitored, and well within safety standards. And it exerts far less speed or force on a body than people believe; high speeds and forceful drops are largely illusions, enhanced by special effects.

Second, Cohen had plenty of warnings to understand what the ride was like before he boarded. And, Cabaniss said, Disney’s evidence will show that Cohen had other medical problems, and his stroke — suffered 23 days after the ride — was caused by factors other than the attraction.

“It is a fun, safe ride for the entire family, no matter young or old,” Cabaniss said of Tower of Terror. “If you can withstand the forces of daily activities from going over speed bumps or potholes … you won’t be harmed by this ride, unless you’ve got some sort of perhaps pre-existing condition.”

As the sides outlined their cases in opening arguments, they indicated the jury is likely to get a close look at how Disney planned Tower of Terror and how it works. The attraction’s designers and independent ride consultants are among witnesses expected to testify. Cohen’s life and medical history also likely will be dissected, as Cabaniss and his team seek to explore alternative causes for his stroke.

Novack has led a number of ride-injury lawsuits against theme parks over the years. The Beverly Hills, Calif., lawyer has also won high-profile victories over Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., including a 2005 decision that forced theme parks in California to abide by a higher standard of care when providing for guest safety.

This is not the only lawsuit alleging strokes caused by Tower of Terror, which opened in 1994, but it is the only one to reach trial. Novack has another case, alleging a British teenager suffered a stroke after riding in 2005. And a Pennsylvania man claims that his wife’s 2001 stroke was caused by either Tower of Terror or another thrill ride, Rock-n-Roller-Coaster. Both of those cases are pending.

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Posted 15 April 2010 - 11:43 AM

This could be interesting. Disney has paid off worse potential lawsuits then this, so it may be possible that there are potential saftey hazards. At the same time, i've ridden it myself many times with no issues, as have the majority of park goers, so this could just someone clawwing for extra attention, and Disney will close this case fairly quickly. We shall see
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Posted 15 April 2010 - 05:28 PM

I think most on this site will not find much merit to this case but being as objective as I can be, one thing jumps out at me. He rode Tower and then had a stroke 23 days after riding. That's a really long time to blame something that happened 3 weeks earlier.

You can knock Disney for a number of things but safety on its attractions is one thing I really can't because I know all of the work and effort that goes into them. Hate to have this attraction dragged through the mud but I hope this ends quickly and in Disney's favor.
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Posted 15 April 2010 - 09:04 PM

I think anyone who has medial issues as a result of riding a Disney ride had a pre-exisiting issue before the ride. Even the Disney "thrill' rides are tame in comparison to many other theme and amusement parks. Think the family is being stubborn not settling out of court and may just end up loding the entire case....
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#5 User is offline   chopsva 

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Posted 17 April 2010 - 06:41 PM

It sounds more like over zelious lawyer than greedy family. Note that the article staed this lawyer has two other cases he wants to bring. Disney maybe deciding to fight this one to take care of all at one time.
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Posted 04 May 2010 - 10:44 AM

Disney has won the case
From The Disney Blog

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A many suing Disney claiming that the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction at Walt Disney World’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park caused his stroke has lost his case after a jury decided in Disney’s favor. This lawsuit was unique in that it challenged Disney’s claim that the attraction was safe and not that an injury was caused by a malfunction.

Not only does Disney have physics on its side here, but they have the numbers as well. Millions of people have been on Tower of Terror and only a small handful have complained of serious injury following their experience, small enough that it’s within the statistical probability range for just walking down the street and being injured. Can’t blame Disney for that, although apparently you can try.

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Posted 13 May 2010 - 10:41 AM

This isn't over yet...

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Victim alleging Tower of Terror is dangerous asks for a new trial
Lawyers representing a stroke victim who claims the stroke was caused by Walt Disney World’s Twilight Zone Tower of Terror have asked for a new trial, a week after an Orange County jury decided there was nothing unsafe about the attraction.

Lawyers for Marvin Cohen, a now-80-year-old man who said he was injured after riding the Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) attraction in 1998, argue that jury members were given inadequate instructions before they began deliberations.

Cohen’s team says Orange County Circuit Judge Jose Rodriguez should have permitted the jury to consider a general negligence claim – rather than solely a premises liability claim, which involves different legal standards – and that the judge should not have barred Cohen’s lawyers from introducing evidence of other similar injuries involving the Tower of Terror, among other errors.

Cohen has said he did not realize that Tower of Terror was a high-speed, sudden-drop attraction when he and his family decided to ride it. He claims that the ride’s drops and rebounds caused his neck to twist as he leaned over to shield a young relative, causing a tear in an artery leading to his brain that ultimately caused a stroke about three weeks later.

The motion ensures that the 8-year-old lawsuit — a rare case claiming that a theme-park attraction is inherently dangerous, rather than alleging that a defect or operational error led to an injury – will continue for at least a few more weeks. This was the first ride-related personal-injury suit against any of Orlando’s major theme parks to go to trial in at least six years.

If Rodriguez denies the request for a new trial, Cohen’s lawyers could still appeal some of the legal rulings made during the course of the suit to an appellate court.

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