In the spirit of fostering legal discussion, LawInfo content writers Chris Blankinship Esq. and Mark Sweet Esq. discuss the legal implications of imposing liability on Disneyland for the injuries sustained by a park visitor.

The facts

Late in the evening on August 18th, a 20-year old man was waiting in line at the Tower of Terror attraction at the Disney California Adventure Park when he committed an incredibly stupid act.  The man stepped over the line railing and joked with his friends about the possibility of falling over the ledge. Well, not surprisingly, the man lost his balance and fell at least 20 feet to the ground below. He suffered minor injuries and was taken to a local hospital for treatment. Officer Rick Martinez, who responded to the incident, stated there were indications the man had been drinking. In fact, Disneyland sells alcohol at various places within the California Adventure Park, including mixed drinks at the “Glow Fest” street party attraction located directly adjacent to the Tower of Terror ride.

It is currently unclear whether the man will sue Disneyland for his injuries. It should be noted that within Disneyland’s general vicinity, there are injury law lawyers who specialize in representing victims who have suffered injuries in theme parks.

Chris’ argument in favor of imposing liability

I know I have the uphill battle in persuading you that Disneyland owes this man anything. Many of you are probably thinking: “I bet this guy is going to sue Disneyland and they’re going to be forced to pay out some huge sum all because this guy acted like an idiot.” You may think this man’s claim seems just as frivolous as Stella Liebeck’s claim against McDonald’s for serving coffee that was too hot. In fact, there are some similarities between the two cases that should help with my argument. If my argument fails to persuade you, I hope it will at least convince you to take a second look at liability claims in general.

At first glance, any lawsuit arising from this event is arguably frivolous. The man had been drinking, he was goofing around with friends, and he willfully stepped over the handrail as a joke. Based on this evidence alone, there doesn’t seem to be a legal reason for imposing liability. However, I argue there were probably events leading up to the fall which put Disneyland employees on notice of the man’s careless and reckless behavior. I’m sure Disneyland has a corporate policy that states any guest who exhibits behavior indicating intoxication, or who poses a danger to themselves or others, must be ejected from the premises. Disneyland’s failure to follow their own corporate policy was a negligent act that caused the man’s injuries. If you agree that Disneyland violated it’s own policy when it failed to identify and eject the man previous to his fall, that you have to agree they are at least partially liable for his injuries.

Disneyland may argue there were no indications the man would act recklessly in the ride line. If you have ever been to Disneyland before, you know how ludicrous this argument is. The parks have just as many cameras as the most sophisticated Vegas casino. It’s impossible to scratch your nose without your actions being noticed and recorded in several mediums. Further, the Glow Fest attraction is already notorious for it’s street-themed party atmosphere which includes alcohol consumption. Even without direct evidence of the man’s behavior, Disneyland knew guests were drinking (likely to excess) and extra precautions should have been taken in order to ensure guest safety. Disneyland should not be able to derive the benefit of alcohol sales without taking on the elevated risk of guest injury.

I understand a big issue readers will have with this case is personal responsibility. It seems unfair to impose liability on Disneyland when the man seemingly caused his own injuries. Although Disneyland employees physically didn’t push the man over the railing, they created a situation where these dangers were foreseeable, and failed to adequately protect their guests from these known dangers.

Mark’s argument against imposing liability

The question is not whether or not this man was stupid, clearly he was.  We all have done something rather foolish or bone-headed in our lives, but few of us expect to be richly rewarded for our incompetence. Rather the question is, at what point do we stop babysitting people and paying for their mistakes?

Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying, this man was hurt, he has suffered a harm and believes that he is entitled to some form of payment (although I don’t think a free yearly pass to Disneyland would quite be appropriate).  His injuries are real, a fall of 20 feet is sure to leave almost anyone in a worse position than when they entered the park.  However, my issue comes from the fact that this man climbed over a barrier that was put in place to keep people from doing exactly what he was doing.  How is this different from a person putting their hand under a saw blade even though there is a protective cover? If we are to hold every company liable for the acts of the truly stupid, why should a business continue to operate?  Outside of an attraction that consists solely of padded walls, almost any “thrill ride” (let alone the queue they are waiting in) could be deemed dangerous.

However, this is away from the main point, the man was not injured on the ride or due to some type of faulty equipment, he was injured when he climbed over a protective railing, joked about falling, and then proceeded to fall. This was not a ride he was on, there was no claim of an issue with the physical property, rather, it was caused by a young man, trying to show off, and who may have been under the influence of alcohol.   Forget for a moment that this is a person who is under-21 and should not be drinking. The question turns on what responsibility Disney has to a potentially drunk person in its park.  When a person drinks to excess, their behavior usually leaves something to be desired and an apology letter the next day may be necessary. That regret is from the person who decided to drink too much and then proceed to do something stupid, not from the place they were at or the people they were visiting.

The next question is what should we expect from Disneyland following this incident? Should we require that Disneyland attach a breathalyzer to each ride or require each patron to have on a “SCRAM” bracelet (an alcohol monitoring system) that would alert security if a patron’s blood alcohol level became too high? This seems not only silly, but downright intrusive.  People will always do something stupid, they will always try to blame someone else and in the end, our society pays.  It is time that we finally say no, that someone is responsible for their actions and that just because alcohol is available we shouldn’t drink to excess and blame someone else for our mistakes.

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