Ride Maker Not Liable for Rider’s Death, Court Says

     (CN) – An amusement ride manufacturer is not liable for the death of a rider on one of its attractions in light of the conviction of an engineer who disabled the safety system, the Tennessee Court of Appeals at Knoxville ruled.

     Rockin’ Raceway Amusement Park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., debuted the Hawk 24 ride in 1998. The 24-seat ride swung back and forth on a pendulum, suspending riders upside down at one point.
     The park’s general manager, Stan Martin, learned how to maintain the ride. Its safety features disable the ride if any of the 24 harnesses are not securely locked into place.
     But at some point between 2000 and 2003, according to the appellate opinion, Martin intentionally re-wired the ride to bypass the safety feature.
     This resulted in a near-disaster when Ken Mace’s harness came open while he was upside down. He braced his feet against another seat to save himself.
     Park employees told Mace and the police that the ride would be inspected before it was operational again, but instead they continued to run the Hawk 24.
     Tragedy struck in March 2004 when June Alexander fell to her death while on the ride. She had screamed to get off the ride when her safety harness failed, but she was not allowed to get off, according to the ruling.
     An investigating engineer ruled that the accident was caused by the “intentional destruction of the ride safety system.”
     Martin was convicted of reckless homicide.
     Alexander’s estate filed a product liability lawsuit against Zamperla Inc. and Antonio Zamperla, S.p.A., the manufacturers of the ride.
     The trial court granted summary judgment to Zamperla, and Judge John McClarty affirmed the decision on appeal.
     “Plaintiffs have not identified a single incident or injury arising from the intentional bypassing of a sophisticated amusement ride’s safety systems similar to the Hawk’s…Under the circumstances, we must disagree with the Plaintiffs’ portrayal of the park manager’s intentional conduct as reasonably foreseeable or presenting a triable issue of fact,” McClarty wrote.

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