Operating one of the largest amusement parks in the world, it is foreseeable that Walt Disney World may be involved in a wide array of personal injury actions, including a variety of slip and falls.
From injuries sustained by guests walking in the actual theme parks, in their hotels and resorts, to shopping centers, and actual amusement rides, even “the most magical place on earth” is no stranger to litigation for failing to protect its guests from dangerous conditions. One of the often-asked questions is how to prove a slip and fall claim against Disney.
The following three cases are examples of personal injury lawsuits relating to an injury or fall at Disney World which outline the legal theories of liability and how the courts have addressed the issue of proving negligence, including for slip, trip and falls, against the company.
Disney can be liable for injuries if it should have been anticipated that dangerous conditions would cause injury.
In March of 2002, the then 43-year-old plaintiff was walking at Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom between 7 and 8 PM when she headed toward the exit. She purposely stepped off the sidewalk and over the curb using her right foot, while looking down at where she was stepping. As she was stepping, she did not see or feel anything of concern. However, upon stepping down she fell on all fours and injured her left knee.
After the fall, the plaintiff began to look around to see what had caused her fall and saw a piece of rubber sidewalk caulking. The piece appeared to be bent or folded but still connected to the rest of the caulking. The plaintiff assumed this had caused her accident as it was directly next to her on the ground and nothing else was in the area of her fall.
On cross-examination, however, the plaintiff admitted that she could not in fact know whether she actually slipped on that piece of rubber caulking or not. Based on this testimony, Walt Disney Resort moved for summary judgment.
The plaintiff opposed the motion and relied on the testimony of Howell Cundiff. Mr. Cundriff was produced by Walt Disney as the person with the most knowledge on repairs and maintenance of the area where the plaintiff was injured. Mr. Cundriff testified that the loose caulk was a tripping hazard and that he typically made efforts to remove any loose rubber caulking he saw.
The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of Walt Disney Resort. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the record shows a material issue of disputed fact which precludes the entry of summary judgment.
According to the case, a landowner, including Disney World, may be liable for reasonably foreseeable injuries if it should have been anticipated or foreseen that those dangerous conditions would cause injury, regardless of whether the conditions were open and obvious. The evidence, in this case, indicates that the caulking was in a state of disrepair and that Walt Disney Resort knew that loose caulking was a tripping hazard. Therefore, the summary judgment in favor of Disney was vacated.
Disney owes a duty to use reasonable care to protect its patrons.
A personal injury action was brought against Walt Disney World where the plaintiff claimed that Walt Disney World’s employee failed to properly warn or instruct her on the manner best to descend from a water ride.
At trial, the plaintiff argued that Walt Disney World owed her a duty to assure her safety because she was a patron of the business. According to this case, and other well-established case law, the standard of care Disney owes to an invitee is one of reasonable care.
During the trial, the court failed to give the jury instructions concerning Disney’s duty to use reasonable care and about the issue of vicarious liability.
According to the case. each party is entitled to have the jury instructed on his or her theory of the case. The trial court erred when it failed to give two requested jury instructions: duty to use reasonable care and vicarious liability. The injury victim was entitled to these instructions, and because of this failure, the judgment was reversed and a new trial was ordered
It’s up to a jury to decide if Disney owes a duty to reduce or eliminate risks before they are dangerous conditions.
The victim in this case was a guest at Walt Disney World’s campground when she decided to visit Downtown Disney during her stay. On her way to Downtown Disney, she had to cross a parking lot to get to the Disney complex. While crossing, she stepped off a curb and got her ankle caught in a storm drain. Her injuries were so severe that she had four surgeries to correct her condition.
At trial, the victim claimed that Disney World was negligent in the manner in which it encouraged guests to cross the street. There was testimony at trial that a Walt Disney employee was working as a crossing guard and directing guests, including the plaintiff, to cross the street at the precise location of the storm drain.
During the trial, Disney moved for a directed verdict at the conclusion of the plaintiff’s case. The trial court denied the motion, citing the presence of the crossing guard directing guests over the storm drain as their reason for denying. At the conclusion of the trial, Disney renewed their motion, and this time the trial court granted the motion, finding no evidence legally sufficient to submit the case to a jury. The plaintiff then appealed.
In support of the trial court’s ruling, Disney relied on the plaintiff’s stipulation that there was no defect with the storm drain itself. Disney also pointed out that the plaintiff admitted that she could have seen the storm drain before stepping, but she was not looking where she was walking. Lastly, Disney argued that a storm drain is not inherently dangerous, and even if it had an employee directing guests to step over the storm drain, the area was not unsafe or defective to constitute negligence.
However, the issue here was whether the manner in which Walt Disney chose to have guests cross the street resulted in an unsafe condition. The question was does Disney owe a duty to reduce, minimize, or eliminate foreseeable risks before they manifest themselves as dangerous conditions.
Under the law, Disney owes a duty of reasonable care to its invitees, and whether that duty was breached as well as whether that breach proximately caused the plaintiff’s injury is an issue of fact to be resolved by the jury. Therefore, a directed verdict was inappropriate.
According to the court, the focus should not have been on the storm drain itself but on the practice of encouraging guests to cross over a storm drain. Because the court was unable to conclude that no reasonable jury could have found in favor of the plaintiff, the case was remanded for a new trial.
More Legal Theories of Negligence Against Disney World
According to Florida case law, Disney has faced other personal injury lawsuits relating to:
- A minor filed suit to recover damages for injuries he received after voluntarily exiting a car used to transport passengers through the “Haunted Mansion” attraction. The minor exited the car and walked over a low railing, causing him to fall fifteen feet down onto a concrete floor. The question of whether Walt Disney World was negligent, as well as the comparative negligence of the minor, were material issues of fact that precluded entry of summary judgment in this case. – See: McCabe v. Walt Disney World Co. – 350 So.2d 814
- Parents of a four-year-old child who drowned on amusement theme park premises brought a wrongful death action against the park. The family was at the theme park at around 11:20 PM. on the night of the incident. The child’s mother was sitting at a table bordering a grassy fenced area where the four-year-old child was playing. The mother began talking to family members and when she turned around the child was gone. At about 2:15 AM the child’s body was located in a moat running around the castle, 150 feet east of where the child was last seen. In order for the child to get to the moat, he would have had to climb out of the fenced-in grassy area, cross a walkway, and climb over a second fence. This presented a substantial factual issue of whether a causal relationship existed between the alleged negligence of the park in having a fence too short to prevent physical access to the water by small children and the drowning of the child, therefore precluding summary judgment. – See: Goode v. Walt Disney World Co. – 425 So.2d 1151
- A Disney guest and his parents filed a lawsuit against Walt Disney World to recover for injuries sustained when a stampede occurred while the guests were on a Disney-operated horseback ride. The child and his parents went on the trail ride after the child’s parents signed release forms. The family had been told by the employees that it would be a walking ride and the employees never discussed the possible dangers involved. During the ride, the horse being ridden by the party’s seven-year-old son stampeded and the child fell from the horse, suffering severe injuries. The court found that the release form did not bar recovery for the injuries sustained because the form did not include any express statement barring recovery for injuries resulting from an employee’s negligence. It cannot be said that, as a matter of law, a nine-year-old child could realize and appreciate the risk of a stampede if he was participating in a walking trail ride. The court ultimately found that in this case, there was sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that the injury was caused by the negligence of the Walt Disney World employee and therefore summary judgment was reversed for further proceedings. – See: O’Connell v. Walt Disney World Co. – 413 So.2d 444
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As a Board-Certified Civil Trial Expert for over 39 years, Alan Sackrin has extensive experience dealing with negligence claims against Disney. He offers a free initial consultation (over the phone or in-person) to answer your questions. When you’re ready to speak with a civil trial expert about your case, contact Alan today or give him a call at 945-458-8655.
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