Jury Sides with Disneyland in Splash Mountain Lawsuit

| June 25, 2014 | 17 Replies

Yet another lawsuit involving Disney has made its way through the court system. Last week, a Southern California jury ruled that while Disneyland had been negligent in evacuating Splash Mountain after a ride vehicle became stuck, a guest’s back injuries had not been caused by this negligence.

Splash Mountain

Stephen Wilson and his wife visited Disneyland in March 2010.  He and his wife, with other friends, decided to ride Splash Mountain, an attraction Wilson had ridden over a hundred times.   Unfortunately, the “log” (the ride vehicle) got stuck on a “sorter brake” just upstream of the third drop and the ride had to be evacuated.

Wilson is a big man, he stipulated that in March 2010, he was about 6’4″ and weighed 415 pounds and there is a hint that Wilson’s companions were not feather weights, either.  In fact, Wilson alleged the log became stuck because cast members negligently overloaded the log.  During this evacuation, Wilson claims, cast members negligently failed to secure the log and when Wilson stood up, the log dislodged, shot upward and forward, causing him to fall back and smash his lower back against the log seat top and severely aggravating a pre-existing back condition.

Splash Mountain Ride Vehicle

Disneyland maintained it was not negligent, arguing that it did not overload the log and that the manufacturer did not require tying off the log during an evacuation. Disneyland also argued that, during the evacuation, when the log started to move, the cast member instructed Wilson to sit down, which he did, using his hands to brace himself.  The cast member denied Wilson lost his balance at all.  Disneyland also argued that Wilson had a degenerative spine condition that was not exacerbated by his alleged fall. Disneyland called an expert witness who explained that Wilson had a long-standing history of degenerative disc disease and the evacuation did not cause or exacerbate Wilson’ s back problems.  The expert believed Wilson’s condition could not have occurred overnight.

The jurors ultimately decided that Disneyland had been negligent but that Disneyland had not caused Wilson’s back injury.  It isn’t clear why the jury reached this decision.  Under California law, Wilson had to prove that Disneyland’s negligence was a “substantial factor” in causing his injuries.  It appears the jury believed Disneyland could have evacuated Splash Mountain more safely but that, regardless, Wilson’s back problems were not caused by (or during) the evacuation.  Their verdict might mean they didn’t believe Wilson had fallen at all, though this seems unlikely, given the finding that Disneyland had been negligent in the evacuation.

Splash Mountain at Disneyland

The jurors asked a number of questions over the three or four days they deliberated.  Several questions asked about previous incidents where the log became stuck and whether there had been previous injuries.  They also asked several questions about the log, including the height of the seat backs and whether there are hand rails on the logs.  For the most part, the judge seems to have told the jurors they had to decide the case based upon the evidence presented.

The jury didn’t hear Disneyland argue that Wilson borrowed his grandmother’s “chair on wheels” when they went to Disneyland. According to Disneyland, Wilson brought the “chair on wheels” to Disneyland on the day he was injured to give the impression that he was disabled and thus facilitate his ease of entry to the ride through the exit queue.  Wilson, Disneyland’s attorney’s argued, testified that he had brought the “chair on wheels” to Disneyland on at least 35 occasions prior to the accident, for the purpose of skipping the lines.”  Ultimately, the judge found this information irrelevant, and, as it turned out, it is better the information was not admitted because it takes away a ground for Wilson to appeal.

Wilson has already said he will seek a new trial, but to do this, he will have to show the evidence was overwhelmingly in his favor or convince the trial court that a significant error occurred in the trial.  It is most difficult to overturn a jury verdict.

I’m grateful that, in 2009, Corey Martin had the foresight to get photographs of Splash Mountain at Disneyland so I could use them in this blog post.

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Category: Disneyland, News

  • Jon Graham

    6′ 4″ 415……..please, stop blaming others and have a little personal responsibilty.

    • Chris

      What does this even mean? He’s fat so its his fault no matter what happened? Give me a break.

      • Spence

        Yeah it is his fault you are on a water ride. If you yourself are 415 pounds and you family is not light either your probably not gonna float so well. To me that’s common sense.

      • Ld442

        It means, if you’re overweight and know you have a back problem, either read the warning signs (which are clearly posted) and adhere to them – or don’t try to blame Disney for your stupidity and then compound your issue by expecting a jury to reward you financially for your lack of responsibility!!!! And while we’re at it – yes he’s very overweight – and since he wasn’t born that way – he’s responsible for that as well!!

  • Nancy Nolan

    Not just the fact that he’s morbidly obese but you also get an idea of this guy’s lack of integrity. Uh yeah, good luck with that new trial.

    • Erin McGuire Greisch

      “Morbidly obese…” are you a doctor??? Do you know him??? The man is 6’4″ and probably built like a house. My son is 5’10” 232 pds and my doctors are fine with it oh and did I mention he just turned 13…????? Gotta love people.

      • Tyler

        6’4″ and 415 pounds is obese. It’s rare to have even a football player or body builder that heavy I actually tried to look it up and well….nope none that come close. There is one that is heavier but he’s not an athlete they just use him as a big wall oh and it’s not even pro, and well he is obese. The body isn’t designed to have that much weight on it, hence why people of bigger size have back and health problems. Plus he confessed to using a wheel chairs to skip lines which also shows his sense of integrity. No we don’t know him but we can use what has been given to get an idea of the person.

      • dippy

        You don’t need to be a doctor to calculate the numbers. at 6’4″ and 415 he has a BMI of 50. That is morbidly obese by any standard. At 5’10” and 232 your son is obese as well with a BMI of 33 so perhaps you need a new doctor. He’s that big at 13. Be afraid.

        • Erin McGuire Greisch

          That’s ok I am not afraid. He is seen by one of the top doctors in country. How do you know my sons BMI??? Do you know his bone density? You are not a doctor so maybe you shouldn’t voice your opinion. If you saw my son the last thing you would say is that he is obese. He is a striking well built handsome young man.

          • Tyler

            All you need for BMI is height and weight.

          • Tyler

            Now I’m no doctor but I do have a degree in dietetics and I would have say that unless your son is really muscular and is like 13% bf his weight isn’t good for someone his age and height. BMI isn’t a good indicator for instance me: I’m 5’9 241 pounds but I’m 15% bodyfat. Anything above 23% is starting to be unhealthy and is pretty much considered obese.

      • Dallas King

        Not that I have an opinion with either side here, but a grown person who is 415 lbs is obese. No amount of college preparedness will be needed to calculate the BMI in this case. Six feet or not. I do believe that a certain amount of risk is involved on “thrill” rides, so aggrevating a preexisting injury/condition may be almost an expected outcome of participation.

      • Aireek

        Erin by all medical definitions this individual is “morbidly obese”! You don’t have to know or see this individual to make this conclusion. It’s a FACT. Your reaction tells me that you’re probably obese and are trying to justify your size. Clearly, you’re trying to justify your sons and by definition 232 pounds with a height of 5 foot 10 inches is obese! Your doctor is being nice, but not honest.

  • Pam

    Disneyland is not responsible for his failure to read the ride warning signs. It does warn against riding if you have back issues.

  • Jan

    oops, sorry, it posted to the wrong article….carry on..

  • Chris

    He’s overweight so OBVIOUSLY Disney did nothing wrong. Lol. Some people crack me up.

  • Meredith Pieper

    The weight is not the issue, plenty of thin people try to get their payouts from places like Disney, its his character that is so disgusting.