Indiana Jones’ death ride
August 12, 2003
Cristina Moreno from Spain, was on her honeymoon visiting Disneyland. She took the Indiana Jones ride, which is quite a thrill – unfortunately, Cristina suffered brain injuries and died two months later.
Nothing more than that is said in the case, just “brain injuries.”
Civil Code 2168, essentially unchanged since it was enacted in 1872, states, “Everyone who offers to the public to carry persons…is a common carrier of whatever he thus offers to carry.”
Section 2100 provides: “a carrier of persons for reward must use the utmost care and diligence for their safe carriage…”
Those statutes define “common carriers” like taxis and buses, and hold them to a higher standard of care – utmost care – rather than mere negligence. Simply stated, if something bad happens while being transported on a common carrier, it is the carrier’s fault.
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If you are riding on a bus and there is an accident or someone’s baggage falls on your head or you slip on the proverbial banana peel, the company will be responsible. (I carry a banana peel wherever I travel).
The Disney Company defended the lawsuit brought by Cristina Moreno’s family, claiming that the “common carrier” utmost care standard had never been applied to an amusement ride where the transportation of people is merely an “incidental consequence of what is essentially entertainment and a thrill ride.”
Moreno’s estate claimed the Indiana Jones attraction is configured to resemble an off-road Jeep and clearly is “a carrier of persons” for money – a common carrier.
Moreno’s estate also pointed out that Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride had previously been ruled by a court to be a common carrier.
Disney next argued that when the common carrier statute was enacted in 1872, there were no such things as amusement rides, thus the legislators did not intend to apply the higher standard to the Indiana Jones ride. Even Jim Porter can figure out that’s a bum argument.
The court also had no trouble dispensing with the argument, pointing out that a “moving staircase,” now an escalator, was invented in 1891 and the Wright Brothers conducted their first airplane flight in 1903 – after 1872. Both have been ruled to be common carriers.
A guided tour mule ride was found to be a common carrier in 1962 and in 1992 a Squaw Valley chair lift was determined to be a common carrier.
The Court of Appeal found that based on the broad statutory language (a carrier of persons), the Indiana Jones attraction is a common carrier.
What this case will do to amusement rides in general remains to be seen.
Disney’s view is that it doesn’t change anything, as safety is their number one consideration. Clearly it will make it easier to sue.
This case could be the beginning of the end of thrilling amusement rides.
The whole point of a roller coaster or an Indiana Jones ride is excitement. No one flew out of the chair. The wheels didn’t come off. The ride performed as it has for millions of screaming customers without incident.
Here’s the next attack on amusement rides: Civil Code 2104 provides: “a carrier of persons for reward (a common carrier) must travel at a reasonable rate of speed and without any unreasonable delay, or deviation from his proper route.”
Sounds like an appropriate law for a bus system. Does the Indiana Jones ride or the Big Dipper at Santa Cruz exceed a reasonable rate of speed? Let’s hope we never have to find out.
The next time you take the Indiana Jones ride, if it seems a little tame, you will know why.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter-Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe and Reno. He is a mediator and was the Governor’s appointee to the Bipartisan McPherson Commission and the California Fair Political Practices Commission. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the firm’s Web site, http://www.portersimon.com.
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