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Court to decide if theme parks are liable for thrill ride injuries

December 30, 2012 |  1:04 pm

The California Supreme Court is expected Monday to decide whether amusement parks can be held liable for injuries suffered on bumper cars and other thrill rides.

The state high court is considering a lawsuit filed by a woman who broke her wrist while riding a bumper car at the Great America amusement park in Northern California. She claimed the park had operated the ride negligently and should compensate her for the injury.

Cedar Fair L.P., the company that owns the park, has countered that riders assume responsibility for themselves when they knowingly hop on an attraction with inherent risks.

"There is always going to be a slight risk in these activities," Jeffrey M. Lenkov, a lawyer for the park, told the jurists in October.

The court has barred suits over injuries that occur under normal conditions in sports such as football or skiing, citing legal doctrine that recognizes some activities have inherent risks. Amusement park owners have asked the court to extend that doctrine to such rides as bumper cars.

"The point of the bumper car is to bump," Justice Joyce L. Kennard noted during the hearing. If the court ruled in favor of the injured patron, would it mean "that no bumping is allowed on bumper car rides?"

"Of course not," replied Mark D. Rosenberg, representing the plaintiff. He said that the park knew injuries might occur during head-on collisions, such as the one involving the female patron, and has since configured bumper car operations to avoid them.

"We want to make the rides as safe as possible," he argued.

Steven J. Renick, an attorney for the park, called the wrist injury "a freakish incident" and the only one of its kind to occur over two years on 600,000 rides. Park officials say she was injured when she put her hand outside the car to brace herself.

The court previously has ruled that operators of roller coasters have a legal duty to use "the utmost care" to protect riders. But Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar distinguished roller coasters from bumper cars.

Patrons can steer and push the gas pedal on bumper cars, but on roller coasters "you have no control. It's scary," she said.

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--Maura Dolan
 

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